Monday, November 16, 2009

The Monet familly in their garden of Argenteuil

Claude Monet lived from hand t0 mouth until he was nearly fifty but for a brief period of prosperity in his early thirties, likely engendered by an inheritance from his father. He and his wife Camille and their son Jean moved to a house with a good garden in Argenteuil, just outside Paris. One lovely afternoon he invited his friend Edouard Manet who impulsively painted the happy family, as seen in this lovely painting now in the Metropolitan Museum.

In 1924, Monet recalled: "During the sitting, Renoir arrived. . . . He asked me for palette, brush and canvas, and there he was, painting away alongside Manet. The latter was watching him out of the corner of his eye. . . . Then he made a face, passed discreetly near me, and whispered in my ear about Renoir: 'He has no talent, that boy! Since you are his friend, tell him to give up painting!'"

Renoir and Manet both gave their pictures to Monet.

Some of this information is from the web site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Manet's scandalous nude Olympia

It is hard to believe what a scandal this painting by Manet in his early years caused when first exhibited. There had been nudes for thousands of years, but this one raised the ire of many, so much that guards had to stand close to prevent angry viewers from thrusting their umbrellas through it. As late as 1932, Paul Valéry said the painting was shocking still, a monster of profane love. As a modern woman, I still can't see anything particularly shocking about it...perhaps someone could comment and enlighten me?

At any rate, the nation of France acquired the painting in 1890 with a public subscription raised by Claude Monet, whom Manet had helped financially - a story I told in a previous post. A great favor returned by the generous Monet who, as soon as he had anything to give and a stable roof over his head, was glad to aid his friends. Years before he was one of the grieving pallbearers at Manet's tragically early death. How these impressionists were all connected!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the impressionists as parents: Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot, who at the age of 33 had married Edouard Manet's brother Eugene, found herself unable to become pregnant for some time. This was difficult in particular for both her sisters were mothers. She wrote to her sister Edma, "I am horribly depressed tonight, tired, on edge, out of sorts, having once more the proof that the joys of motherhood are not for me." At last, at age 37, she bore her daughter Julie. She had hoped for a boy but fell deeply in love with her little girl who was "like a kitten, always happy."

Julie later recalled her "artistic and tender mother." She wrote a diary published about twenty years ago called Growing Up with the Impressionists. How fascinating to have a life where Renoir was always dropping in and asking the pretty Julie to model!

The painting is Julie Manet and Her Greyhound Laertes by her mother Berthe Morisot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

the impressionists as parents: Renoir

Auguste Renoir was in his fifties and his wife Aline much younger when their son Jean was born.

Jean wrote, "I was a spoilt child. My family enclosed me in a protective wall softly padded on the inside. Beyond this wall, impressive persons came and went. I would have liked to join them and be impressive myself...when I discerned a breach in the wall, I uttered cries of alarm. My father loved to paint my hair...I did not look at my father's pictures, but I was aware of them." Later Jean was sent to boarding school which he hated, and from which he regularly ran away.

The picture is Jean drawing, created by the famous father and the quote is from My Life and My Films by Jean Renoir. Many years later, the little golden-haired Jean would become one of the great French filmmakers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

guess who made this caricature?

Believe it or not, this is an example of the humble beginnings of the old master of Giverny himself before he ever heard of a water lily. The young Claude Monet (called "Oscar" by his family) hated school and by the time he was 17, was known throughout his town of Le Havre for his caricatures which made him a small fortune. Alas, one day he fell in with a local landscape artist called Boudin (more about him later) who challenged him to try landscape painting. Monet was swept away by the experience and soon had spent all his francs on paints and canvases. Everyone had wanted his caricatures and no one wanted his landscapes. At 37 he was a great deal poorer than he had been twenty years before.

Man Standing by a Desk by Claude Oscar Monet

self doubts from Pissarro...

On a visit to Paris with my friend we went of course to the Père Lachaise Cemetery where unexpectedly I found Pissarro's grave at the end of the row for Jewish graves. The trees seemed heavy and old above this quiet corner. I recalled the words of self-doubt from the great artist: "I have just concluded my series of paintings...sometimes I am horribly afraid to turn round canvases which I have piled against the wall; I am constantly afraid of finding monsters where I believed there were precious gems!"

Pissarro is shown with his wife Julie in Pontoise 1877. She was his mother's maid when he got her pregnant, which must have made for some interesting banging of doors at home. Lack of financial stability wore hard on her as she waited for her gentle husband to make his fortune in art.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the lost impressionist, Frédéric Bazille

Frédéric is no longer lost to us, for in the past 25 years several art historians have written books about him and a number of museums borrowed his work for special exhibitions. But though it was his idea to gather his struggling artist friends Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and others into a private exhibition, fate intervened and the first exhibition of the impressionists went on without him. He came to Paris from a wealthy family in Montpellier on the promise that he would attend medical school and paint on the side. After months and years of writing his parents that his school exams had once more been inexplicably postponed, he gave himself up to full time painting.

Frédéric was a great friend and when the others had no place to crash, they slept on his floor. "My studio is full of needy painters," he wrote home happily. "Monet is the best of us." The genial, helpful Frédéric is the third major character in my novel CLAUDE AND CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET (Crown, April 2010). His painting shown here - View of the Village of Castelnau-le-Lez - was created when he was 27 years old.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Edouard Manet at sea...

The painting is Manet's Moonlight over the Port of Boulogne, painted in 1869 when he was 37. If fate had turned another way, the blond dandy would have been on a ship rather than painting one from shore. When Edouard was seventeen, his father (who was not impressed by Edouard's dreams of a life in art) sent the young man on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro. The navy was not to be his destiny for he twice failed the exam. However, he found the women on land charming (as he subsequently found many women) and some historians feel it was there that the sensual Edouard caught the syphilis which would bring on his early and tragic death.