About the Exhibition
This groundbreaking exhibition is the first ever devoted to the young genius of Claude Monet. Monet: The Early Years concentrates on the first phase of the artist’s career, from his Normandy debut in 1858 until 1872, when he settled in Argenteuil, on the River Seine near Paris.
On the strength of his invention of a highly personal and distinctive mode of painting, the young man positioned himself as an artist to be recognized and to be reckoned with. Monet: The Early Yearsexamines this period in depth, through the greatest examples of his painting—drawn from museums in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Uniting many of Monet’s works for the first time since they left the artist’s studio, Monet: The Early Years explores the invention of the painter—not only the evolution of his creative imagination, but also the stages of his conscious development as an artistic personality. Beginning when the artist is seventeen and concluding when he is only thirty-one, Monet: The Early Yearschronicles that journey with paintings filled with all the ambition and vibrancy of the artist’s youth. The exhibition is organized by the Kimbell Art Museum in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Monet Before the Public
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Monet began his career in Le Havre after the painter Eugène Boudin took him under his wing as a teenager, exhibiting View Near Rouelles in 1858. By age twenty-four, he was accepted into the Paris Salon on his first attempt, showing two paintings, including the Kimbell’s Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, the inspiration for this exhibition. This first success was not to last long, however.
In the summer and autumn of 1865, Monet settled for a time near the Fontainebleau forest, which had been since about 1850 the center of innovation in realist art. Monet set out to create a monumental painting for the Salon of 1866, one that would blend the worldly modern subjects made famous by Manet with an equally modern treatment of nature. The vast Luncheon on the Grass, two large fragments of which are shown in this exhibition, was never brought to completion. The pieces that remain, however, demonstrate how very “unfinished” the finished painting would have been. Two more paintings in a similar style were refused by the Salon of 1867. The defiance of conventional standards of finish became the artist’s trademark and was typically the reason that so many of his works were either rejected for display or ridiculed when they were shown. His bravery, indeed his bravado, became legendary—or else notorious.
Monet did have some success exhibiting works outside the Salon—on view in a window of a dealer’s shop, for instance. Especially notable is A Hut at Sainte-Adresse, which Monet brought to exhibition four times over the course of two decades.
Monet and His Family
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Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux probably met around 1865. She might have been a model, but she lived with her parents in the same Parisian neighborhood as the painter, so perhaps they even met casually there. By the summer of that year, she was posing for some of the figures in Luncheon on the Grass, and in early 1866 she was the model for a full-length portrait that won favor at the Salon.
At some point, the two became lovers, and a son was born to them in August 1867. As a twenty-six-year-old struggling painter, Monet was suddenly responsible for the well-being of a lover and their baby. His relationship with his father and his aunt was strained; they ceased to support him financially for a time, leaving the young family to face periods of poverty. The privations of their real life were not reflected in Monet’s paintings. Two images of his young son—as a baby in his cradle and as a sleeping toddler—seem to be expressions of fatherly tenderness.
Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux were married on June 28, 1870, in Paris and left shortly thereafter for their honeymoon to Trouville. As the early months of their marriage progressed, the couple became more concerned for the future. Fearful of being called up by the army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War, Monet embarked with his family for England, also living in Holland before returning to settle in France.
A Painter of Water and Reflection
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From the time he was in his twenties, throughout his long career, the painting of water was one of Monet’s great preoccupations. Furthermore, the ability to capture its changing effects was one of his great talents. More than half the paintings he sent for exhibition in the 1860s showed the sea or the river, attesting not only to the popularity of such themes but also to Monet’s abiding interest in them. Each location and setting became a challenge for Monet, from the oceans of Normandy to the banks of the river Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, and the Zaan in Holland.
The mutable surfaces of water posed challenges of representation that Monet was keen to meet, using a variety of techniques. He allowed paints to mix with each other on the surface of the canvas or on his brush, which was carefully selected for just the right effect. Rarely, but brilliantly, he used a flat palette knife to slather paint across the picture surface. None of his methods are disguised; on the contrary, Monet insists that the viewer be able to see the traces of his hand at work.
A Modern Life
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Monet lived mostly in the country or by the sea, but from time to time he came to Paris to work and to paint the city itself. His first paintings of Parisian life date from 1867, when the capital had been dressed in its finest on the occasion of the Universal Exposition. Monet set up his easel on the exterior colonnade of the Louvre and painted the streets surrounding the palace-museum, capturing the city’s modernity through the inclusion of advertising kiosks, trees, and street lights introduced into the redesign of Paris by Baron Haussmann.
In 1869, the Monet family, living near the riverside village of Bougival, often went without food and depended on the generosity of fellow artists. Despite this, a period of feverish activity brought Renoir and Monet together. In tandem they painted still lifes and remarkable studies of the bathing place La Grenouillère. Impoverishment gave rise to accomplishment, as demonstrated by these remarkable paintings.
The Franco-Prussian War significantly impacted the early career of Monet. Scenes such as The Wooden Bridge show the aftermath and rebuilding of France. After the war, Monet and his family returned from abroad to settle in the riverside town of Argenteuil. No longer moving from place to place, the Monets enjoyed a period of domestic tranquility and success. The house and its garden at Argenteuil became their home for the next five years, and Monet engaged in painting modern leisure scenes such as Regatta at Argenteuil. The year 1872 marked a closing of one stage of the painter’s life and the beginning of another. At the end of the year, Monet painted a hazy view of the port of Rouen. When, eighteen months later, Monet was asked for its title for the catalogue of an exhibition, he replied, “Put Impression."