The exhibition file illustrates the links that existed between Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), both from a personal point of view and against the background of the First World War and artistic creation. The exhibition will focus mainly on the Great Decorations project of the Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie, a work that crystallises the links and ambitions of the two men, with the aim of bringing together art and nation at a crucial moment in history.
Numerous portraits of Monet have survived — self-portraits, the works of his friends (Manet and Renoir among others), photographs by Carjat and Nadar — all of them reproducing his features at various stages in his life. Many literary descriptions of Monet’s physical appearance have come down to us as well, particularly after he had become well-known and much in demand by art critics and journalists.
In 1919, when Monet was living almost as a recluse at Giverny, not far from Vernon-sur- Seine, he had a visit from Fernand Léger, who saw him as “a shortish gentleman in a panama hat and elegant light-grey suit of English cut… He had a large white beard, a pink face and little eyes that were bright and cheerful but with perhaps a slight hint of mistrust…”1 Both the visual and the literary portraits of Monet depict him as an unstable, restless figure. Monet’s abrupt changes of mood, his constant dissatisfaction with himself, his spontaneous decisions, stormy emotions and cold meticulousness, his consciousness of himself as a personality moulded by the preoccupations of his age, set against his extreme individualism — taken together these features elucidate much in Monet’s creative processes and attitudes towards his own work.
Claude-Oscar Monet was born in Paris on November 14th, 1840, but all his impressions as a child and adolescent were linked with Le Havre, the town where his family moved in about 1845. The surroundings in which the boy grew up were not conducive to artistic studies: Monet’s father ran a grocery business and turned a deaf ear to his son’s desire to become an artist. Le Havre boasted no museum collections of significance, no exhibitions, no school of art.
The gifted boy had to content himself with the advice of his aunt, who painted merely for personal pleasure, and the directions of his school-teacher. The most powerful impression on the young Monet in Normandy was made by his acquaintance with the artist Eugène Boudin. It was Boudin who discouraged Monet from spending his time on the caricatures that brought him his initial success as an artist, and urged him to turn to landscape painting. Boudin recommended that Monet observe the sea and the sky and study people, animals, buildings and trees in the light, in the air. He said: “Everything that is painted directly on the spot has a strength, a power, a sureness of touch that one doesn’t find again in the studio”. These words could serve as an epigraph to Monet’s work. Monet’s further development took place in Paris, and then again in Normandy, but this time in the company of artists. His formation was in many ways identical to that of other painters of his generation, and yet at the same time his development as an artist had profoundly distinctive individual features.
He made it his priority to serve the truth and to keep pace with the times, and only experienced a slight uncertainty in deciding whether the landscape or scenes with figures should be the genre central to his work. Like most artists of his generation, Monet evinced no interest in tackling acute social problems. By the time Monet’s generation began appearing on the artistic scene, the hopes inspired by the 1848 revolution had been shattered.
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