Monet: A New View
By: J. Marlando
I worked as an art reviewer quite few years before I married but, for some reason, I had always overlooked Monet until one day I asked my wife who her favorite artist was. She gave it some serious thought and answered Claude Monet. The only impressionist I had ever written about was Degas whose tremendous anima fixation interested me…but Monet…I simply had not paid any attention to him or, to impressionism, for that matter, for years.
Wondering what my wife saw in Monet, I began seeing his paintings instead of just looking at them. When I did, a whole new world of stark beauty and his world of enchantment unfolded for me. As the reader can see, I had suddenly transformed into a Monet enthusiast.
As for the artist himself, he was born in Paris on November 14, 1840. When Monet was five his mother and father moved to Normandy.
His father, Claude Adolphe Monet wanted him to follow him into the family grocery business but even as the young child, little Claude had the desire to be an artist. In fact, as a child, local residents began knowing him through his charcoal drawings—mostly cartoon caricatures—and buying them from him for a few francs. When he was somewhere between fifteen and sixteen years old he took his first drawing lesson. It was around this time, in January of 1857, that his mother died and he moved in with his childless aunt, Marie-Jeanne La Cadre.
Perhaps if his mother had lived, his early life as a painter would have been different but his father was unenthusiastic when it came to the arts and, even though he was a wealthy businessman he refused to give his son any financial assistance. If he wanted to be an artist he could go his own way.
He did and along his way he met an older artist, Eugene Boudin
While Monet was left in obscurity as a serious artist he managed to sell enough of his caricatures to move to Paris and enroll at the Academie Suisse, a private art school. He wrote his friend Eugene, “I am surrounded by a small group of landscape artists here, who would be very happy to meet you. They are real painters.”
Monet continued to paint and to study without making any waves in the professional world of art. Then in 1873 he painted this intriguing painting
The critics scoffed at it and one coined the term impressionism which Monet’s fellow artists clung on to but not Monet. His major ambition was to become a Salon painter. (The “salon” was the greatest annual art event in the Western World; it was there all the great works were exhibited).
In any case, this was not the first time Claude Monet faced negative criticism. Back in 1868 he had painted an apparent masterpiece with title, “On the Bank of the Seine Bennecourt,” clearly revealing the artists unique connectedness to nature but critics chose to reject his extremely bright sunlight and exact reflections in the water, even saying that if it weren’t for the young woman in the foreground one could turn the painting upside down and not know the difference. I personally see that as a compliment but it was not meant to be praise, it was meant to be insulting. I will leave it to the reader to judge the painting below for him or herself. As for me, I am awed by it.
In regard to all of this and Monet’s own ambitions as an artist, he was destined to become one of the most famous impressionists in the world and indeed be called the father of Impressionism. Be that as it may, he was also destined to be a success at the Salon, something most important to him.
As for the artist himself, he never had the nature for being a bohemian artist; the poet seeking the poem, so to speak. He wanted recognition and was far more realistically minded than most artists. In fact, he spent a short time in the military serving in Algeria. He returned home, however, fighting typhoid fever. When he recovered returned immediately to his art.
The rest of this article will be devoted to the artist and his art—here he is seen as the young painter
The Birthing of Impressionism
Still young—in his twenties and early thirties—Monet had struck up a friendship with three fellow artists, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley and Aguste Renoir. The four of them were at the core of the impressionist movement. Evidently, by then, Monet had realized that impressionism was indeed a legitimate art form that needed maturing into a fine art. Out of the four artists Renoir and Monet became closest friends and worked together to develop the art style.
Renoir, seen here
In any case, both Renoir and Monet were experiencing the “suffering artist’s” life together as they struggled in poverty to make names for themselves. And, while Monet was basically a “dandy” in his dress with rather an indignant personality, he seems to have enjoyed those days of poverty and painting even though they were destined to last much longer than he hoped that they would. Nevertheless recognition was soon to come if not the money. He even acquired some early salon success with his paintings Cape La He’ve at Ebb Tide
It is at this juncture we need to explore the meaning of expressionism and so, if you will the metaphysics of Monet’s work: In overview impressionism was a movement started in the 1800s by a small group of Paris-based artists. The name was derived from Claude Monet’s earlier work Impression Sunrise as seen in the above. (Actually the term was coined by the critic Louis Leroy). The “style” was at first rejected by critics and art enthusiasts because it violated the rules of academic painting. For one thing colors often took precedence over lines and contours and concentrated more on light than form. One of my favorites with title Magpie, as seen here
It has always been acknowledged that impressionism attempted to capture modern life in Paris, most typically outdoor paintings of people and places. This is certainly demonstrated in Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines as seen below:
The magic, the very enchantment of impressionism, however, is that it attempts to capture the instant; like Emerson’s rose that “is perfect in every moment of its existence.” There is no time to them, there is simply the rose.
Impressionism attempts to capture the timelessness of being that “quantum” process of consciousness in creation before subjects become fully formed. For example, a splash of sunlight on leaves suddenly metallic and electric but not yet fully material in one’s prospective, as we often see things out of the corner of our eyes. This is especially demonstrated in Monet’s 1887 painting “Girls in a Boat”
Monet was not always the pure impressionist, however. That is, his paintings were not always flashes of eternity in some infinite now. Indeed, look at his Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, an 1867 a more traditional piece cemented in time as life unfolds on the canvases of more classical artists.
And speaking of “classical artists,” although this painting with title, La Japonnaise was first exhibited at an impressionist’s show
La Japonnaise was a far cry from his earlier painting, Women in in the garden. In this 1866 painting
I wholeheartedly disagree. For one thing this was one of Monet’s earlier attempts to capture light in an impressionistic way. What I believe is misunderstood about the painting is the sudden shock of contrast between bright light and deep shadow. As a result, these women are strangers in the environment but nevertheless intrigued and passionate about it. Just look at the motion of the young lady walking off the path, in that moment she is leaving culture and fashion behind and discovering her connectedness to nature as the other ladies already have. None of this was a flaw in Monet’s work but to simplify what I am attempting to explain here is to say: it is not at all the ladies who are out of place in the painting, it is their gowns.
What if Monet actually intended to make a comment about the conflict between nature and culture we can never know for sure but that the painting brilliantly makes the comment is apparent.
Nearly ten years later Monet would paint, “The Walk. Lady with a Parasol”
Monet: A peak into his Private Life
When Claude Monet was the young, struggling artist of 24 or 25 years old he met a lovely, young woman by the name of Camille Doncieux; a 17 year old who was fascinated by the art and the artist. She became his model and soon enough his lover..
In Monet’s times, men from the upper social classes never married their mistresses but Monet did not give a hoot about that kind of conventionalism and after a time asked her to marry him. She promptly said, “Yes.”
They were married in Paris at the town hall with friends and her parent’s attending but Monet’s father and aunt refused to attend as they considered Camille below their social status.
Claude had very little status of any kind beyond being a rather radical artist at the time. He was indeed the struggling artist then.
While Monet’s relatives thought that Camille was below his station, Camille’s parents did not trust Monet’s motives and insisted on a kind of prenuptial agreement that allowed their daughter to keep control of her dowry, small as it was.
One of the paintings he did that summer we have already talked about but I will reprint it here to point out that the lady talking at the railing with an unidentified gentleman is his cousin Jeanne-Marguerite Lacadre with his aunt centered with her back to us and his father in the foreground.
As mentioned before this was at a time when Monet’s greatest ambition was to be accepted at the salon and so he was still in denial when it came to his tendencies toward impressionism. During that first summer, he also completed, “Lady in a Green Dress.”
This painting, modeled by his young bride Camille is certainly a world away from impressionism; it is classical and has the feeling of stark traditional realism. The painting was quickly given acclaim. As it turned out the painting was purchased by Arsene Houssaye
All seemed well and both Monet and Camille were happy. Monet began work on “Women in the Garden” (as seen in the above) with great enthusiasm. That enthusiasm waned, however after the Salon turned it down.
It is interesting to contemplate the reasons why the Salon judges rejected the beautiful eight foot painting. The “judges” there did not—perhaps could not—comprehend a painting without some profound meaning in its “story” or at least some ragged symbolism. The idea of capturing a moment in the sun, so to speak, seemed futile to the judges; a waste of time and effort! To the critic of those middle 1800s, art was ever as much philosophy and even commentary as it was illustration. After all, the art world was just recovering from its heavy doses of neoclassicism and romanticism with all their joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, so the thought of art for arts’ sake was beyond the critic’s comprehension. Who were the women in Monet’s garden, anyway? What was the meaning of their presence there?
Well there was meaning, although missed at the time and even into our own times: For Monet the meaning was in the purity and beauty of human experience. It is this that makes the painting brilliant and yet that brilliance still eludes many art critics even into the 21st century.
Brilliant or not, the rejection by the Salon was harmful to the artist’s financial well-being and money problems began to creep in. It was around this time that Camille became pregnant which only added to the practical pressures of life. Monet was forced to return home and ask for help.
He no doubt was given a tidy sum. In 1867 he went back to Paris to paint with his old friend Renoir. This was when he painted the Church of Saint-Germaine as seen here:
At first this seems to be Monet’s return to the Salon’s type realism, masterful in prospective and in the accurate architecture of the old city but instead the work is demonstrating a moment in time; a fleeting moment wherein people are bypassing the Gothic past with its ageing chestnut trees and being detached from all except their own experiences. Monet was truly a master at creating such scene without paying any attention whatsoever to detailing the people in his paintings, they were just there in the sunshine and the shadows, doing life so to speak. This was a mere signal of the impression that was to come.
Camille gave birth to their first son while Monet remained in Normandy. They named the infant, Jean! He remained in Normandy not only to paint but to convince his father to give him some needed help. His father however was stubborn—he first of all disapproved of Monet’s career but of his choice of a wife too—how dare his son marry so far below his station.
During the days of financial struggle Monet wrote his good friend Frederic Bazille
Frederic Bazille, a brilliant impressionist himself was far better off than Monet and would often take Monet in, letting him use his studio and, in fact, he ended up buying Women in the Garden for 2,500 francs—a very high price for an unknown artist and especially for a painting that had been rejected by the Salon. The purchase, however, was more to help Monet than to cherish his art work. Bazille paid off the painting at 50 francs a month to keep Monet in reasonable pocket money. Bazille was a generous and empathetic human being.
Even though Monet managed to obtain small commissions he went through a few years of real poverty but it was during those years that he perfected his style and the aspects of impressionism that were to make him world renowned. In 1871, for example, he painted the Port of Zaandam as seen here
It is all but impossible not to be overwhelmed by experiencing this painting; the light lands on the water in metaphysical waves of reflection but this was his genius, his special gift. Another painting he did there has title of Canal in Zaandam as seen here:
in 1999 it sold for $4.6 million…at the time the artist could not really afford to eat without help from friends and family.
By the mid-1870s Camille was pregnant again. She would deliver a second son, Michael. This was a time of extreme money problems for the artists. Indeed, in March of 1875 he had written his friend and fellow artists, Edouard Manet, saying, “Things are going worse and worse. Since the day before yesterday I have not a sou, and no credit anywhere either—not at the butcher’s, not at the baker’s. Even if I have confidence in the future, the present remains very difficult…could you possibly send me 20 Francs by return? It would tide me over for the moment,” He wrote many such pleading letters to friends, others artists and collectors during those years of financial woes. Obviously by this time Monet’s family knew that he and Camille’s breakup was his scam. By now he was feeling desperate and swallowed up in depression. There was a time that he made a rather feeble attempt at suicide by jumping in the Seine but this was probably much more a declaration of his deep-suffering, than an honest death wish. In any case, it was during these earlier years that on one level of consciousness or another he was letting go of his Salon-pleasing ambitions and becoming more and more the impressionist. Certainly this 1870’s painting, “Hotel de Roches Noires, Trouville
Not all was a constant stream of poverty for Monet or his wife and child. They were actually living, in the least, a nice life at the start of his marriage. They had rented a cottage in Argenteuil where he had painted yachts as seen here: Indeed, Monet’s good friend, Edouard Manet painted the artist and his wife on Monet’s studio boat. The painting certainly reflects contentment in the life of the artist and his wife. Then things even became financially better: Monet and Camille moved from Argenteuil to Vetheuil in 1878—as seen here
Quite suddenly Monet was living the life he desired—He not only had Camille’s dowry but he father had died and left him a tidy sum. Now the Monet’s had a wonderful home, two servants and a gardener. In his painting, “The Luncheon” he shows a very elegant life style with his wife and son, Jean, enjoying the yard.
Monet obviously loved his life style then and often invited his friends to stay at his house to paint or to simply enjoy. This was also a time when Monet met Gustave Cailebiotte, a painter who was financially independent thanks to family money and a collector who became patron of Monet and other impressionists, collecting their works and even paying for their exhibitions.
It was also during Monet’s more “relaxed” days that he met Department store director and chateau owner, Ernest Hoschede, who had been collecting Impressionists on a grand scale as a speculator. In 1976 he commissioned Monet to paint panels for a salon at his Montgeron residence. In the following year he was bankrupt, however, and when his collection was put to auction, the prices for Monet’s work and other Impressionists dropped dramatically. This was so harmful to the style that Monet felt that he was no better off than he had been ten years before. He and his wife moved into a modest house then with the Hoschedes moving in with them. The Hoschedes had six children!
Only a year before life seemed to be unfolding wonderfully. In fact, in Monet’s 1875 painting of Camille—La Japonnaise, as seen in the above, he capture her loving, giving personality in his portrait of her very pretty face
He painted his dead wife in the morning sunlight
Monet: The Later Years
Monet was nearing 40 when Camille died and thereafter it did not take long for rumors and local gossip to start about Monet’s relationship with Alice
A year after Camille’s passing Monet painted this rather cold and desolate, “Ice floes at Vetheuil.”
Soon enough however, he was back in the sunshine as depicted in this 1986 painting, “A Walk on the Cliffs at Pourville.”
Then in 1886, Monet completed his last two life sized portrait, painted outdoors. The model was Alice Hoschede’s daughter Suzanne. This work with title, “Woman Facing Right”
and another with title “Woman Facing Left”
Earnest Hoschede died in 1891 and in the following year Alice and Monet married. They would remain together until Alice’s death in 1911. Monet would not die for another fifteen years so, for the times, he had a very long life. Over those years he slowly overcame the obstacles in his career and evolved into the most famous of all the Impressionists. Today he is one of the most famous artists worldwide. His paintings such as this masterwork with title,” Poppy Field in a Valley near Giverny” was painted in 1885.
In many ways this painting represents Monet’s Impressionism most profoundly as it captures the eye in a first glance way; in that magical moment before coming into focus and clarity of detail. It is certainly one among my favorites of his paintings.
There was something I believe far more mystical about Claude Monet than is typically believed. He was a master at capturing life in a near quantum-creative sense; the sudden shock of manifestation before formation and so that transition between wave and particle caught in a glance.
Am I permitting my own imagination to run wild upon saying this? I do not know. I do think it is apparent that Monet saw the world that he painted in a less material way than most of us experience it. That is as a place of phenomena. Just look at his Evening in Venice:
Is this not creation in progress?
If You enjoyed this article, you will probably enjoy all the art and artists below.
American Art and Artists: http://www.infobarrel.com/American_Art_and_Artists
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