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Monet – Clemenceau (part 2)

You can read part 1 here.

When Monet was in Paris he could most often be found in his favourite district on the right bank near the railway station of Saint-Lazare. These were familiar haunts for Monet, as he used to arrive here from Le Havre and leave from here when travelling out into the environs of Paris. He covered canvas after canvas here, creating in the first cycle of his career Saint-Lazare Station (1877).

Saint-Lazare Station, 1877.
Oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The theme of the railway was not a new one in European art. The views of Saint-Lazare station and his landscapes of Montgeron were Monet’s major contributions to the Third Impressionist Exhibition, but neither the public nor the critics took them seriously. Of Turkeys, one of the decorative Montgeron canvases distinguished by its marvellously rhythmic structure, it was written that Monet had simply scattered white blobs with necks attached on a green background, that the painting lacked air and that as a whole it created a ridiculous impression.

Turkeys, 1876. Oil on canvas, 174.5 x 172.5 cm.
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The fourth Exhibition was somewhat less varied, for Renoir, Sisley and Berthe Morisot were all absent. However, the contributions from Monet and Pissarro continued to affirm the central role of the landscape in the Impressionist movement. The main attacks from the critics were provoked by Monet’s La Rue Montorgueuil, June 30, 1878 (1878, private collection, Paris) and Rue Saint-Denis, June 30, 1878 (1878, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen). The cityscapes shown by Monet at the fourth exhibition reveal changes in his treatment of the urban theme and changes in his style as a whole.

Rue Saint-Denis, 30th of June 1878 Celebration, 1878.
Oil on canvas, 76 x 52 cm.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

The streets of Montorgueuil and St Denis had been decorated for the World Fair. To produce the paintings, Monet adopted a viewpoint similar to the one he had chosen for the Boulevard des Capucines, looking down from a balcony, only now the compositions gave no indication of the position from which the pictures were painted. The views of the Saint-Lazare Station displayed new developments in the character of Monet’s painting. It is painted with powerful brushstrokes which at times “fragment” the object being depicted.

Boulevard des Capucines, 1873.
Oil on canvas, 61 x 80 cm.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

Similarly, in Flags the comma-like strokes have become frenzied; energetic marks of the brush literally lash the surface of the canvas, and the colours, especially the various shades of red, ring out loudly and confidently. Always preoccupied with the problems of rendering light and air, Monet had thus by the late 1870s or early 1880s achieved a heightened expressiveness of colour and a powerful and dynamic brushstroke.

 Road Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874.
Oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In 1880, Monet was forty years old. The Impressionists, and Monet more than anyone, wanted to transform Nature herself into a workshop and to erase the distinction between the sketch, the result of direct observation, and the picture, the synthesis of the whole creative process. Thus Monet’s correspondence abounds in complaints about changes in the weather. He is brought to despair by rain, winds and inconsistent light, all of which hamper his work, and yet at the same time it is Nature’s very changeability that is so attractive to him. How can one convey by means of paint the grass swaying in the wind or the ripples on the surface of water? How can one transfer onto canvas the fluffiness of newly-fallen snow or the crackling fragility of melting ice as it flows downstream? It was Monet’s firm conviction that all this can be achieved by tireless observation and so, dressed in comfortable clothing suitable to the weather, the artist would go out to work every day, morning, afternoon and evening.

The Poppy Field in Argenteuil, 1873.
Oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Etretat, Sunset, 1883. Oil on canvas, 55 x 81 cm.
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina.

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