Not everyone knows this but Monet grew up in le Havre. The reason I think it’s important to know is because he spend his childhood there untill the death of his mom when he was 15. So Monet’s home town was neither an urban place like Paris nor an idyllic rural place like Giverny but a typical harbor city. Le Havre was almost the biggest harbor of France. The biggest one is Marseille. in 1851 he also went to Le Havre secondary school of the arts.
Growing up in Saint-Adresse, a bourgeois suburb of the industrial port city of Le Havre, Monet was familiar with nautical craft and had painted them in all shapes and sizes throughout his youth. There is no record of Monet’s having done much traveling by boat, except when fleeing to England and Holland during the Franco-Prussian War. I will write about that time late. there evidence that he ever owned a boat before moving to Argenteuil. I will write about his time in Argenteuil later. His father earned his living servicing larger ships as a chandler, so perhaps until this time boats were to closely associated with labor to instill notions of leisure. That Monet at age thirty-three purchased a boat and rendered it so faithfully is significant on a personal and a practical let that later as well. It speaks of his success, as such a boat would have been expensive. Monet earned 24,8oo francs the previous year, or twice what doctors and lawyers were making in Paris at the time, and he was ordering his wines from Narbonne and Bordeaux instead of drinking cheaper local vintages. At the same time, he must have believed that the boat was a reasonable investment. Although he was generally careful about money, he never skimped on professional expenses. He bought his, painting supplies from one of the best houses in Paris, for instance, and maintained a studio in the capital so that he could meet dealers and collectors; he was keen to ensure that his canvases would remain in superb physical condition over time (as most of his work from the Argenteuil period has). Monet also had unwavering confidence in himself as an artist it would do what it took to advance his career.
At fifteen, I was known by the whole of Le Havre as a caricaturist. My reputation was so well established that I was commissioned by everyone for these types of portraits. It was in effect, in consideration of the sheer number of commissions that I received as well as the insufficiency of the allowance that I received from my mother, that prompted the audacious decision that I made to charge a fee for my portraits. This of course, scandalized my family. I would charge ten to twenty francs depending on whether I liked the look of my clients or not and this method worked extremely well. In a month, the number of clients had doubled and I was able to charge a fixed rate of twenty francs without reducing in any way the demand. Had I continued this way, I would today be a millionaire!
This is how Monet describes his fame in his home town Le Havre when he was only 15 years old.
In 1856 he met fellow artist Eugene Boudin on the beach of Normandy. I will write about Boudin later. Despite the considerable age difference (15 years) they became life-long friends. Boudin also acted like his mentor and taught him how to use oil paints and paint en plein air (outdoors). Boudin saw something in Monet and told him that he had it in him to become a real artist not just waste his talent on caricatures like he had done before. I will write more about Boudin in another post. when Monet was 16 his mom died he left school and he started to live with his childless aunt Marie-Jeanne Lecadre. He first went to Paris where he would paint after the Old Masters and met other young artists like Piere-Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Jean Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley who would become friends and fellow Impressionists. These contacts would prove very important when Monet and other impressionists rebelled against the conservatives in the art institutes in France. Monet wasn’t instantly successful. He lived mainly in poverty from 1857-1871.
One of the first paintings of Le Havre from that time is this one:
Almost a decade later in 1867 and 1868 he painted some more paintings of Le Havre:
After that he had a successful exhibition with some maritime paintings and he won a silver medal for his work at Le Havre but the paintings were seized by his creditors. The paintings were bought back by a shipping merchant, Gaudibert, who was also a patron of Boudin.
Monet is not quite as known for his paintings of the sea and boats as for his haystacks and waterlilies but he has painted lots of those as I showed in some earlier posts about Monet. In 1872 One of Monet’s most famous paintings is of the sea though and that one is an impression of Le Havre. The painting is called “impression, sunrise” and it is famous for giving its name to the genre impressionism. It was supposed to be insulting to Monet and other painters working in this new genre suggesting that their works were unfinished/incomplete, but they actually rather liked the word, because it captured the aim of the painters rather well. The aim of the painters was to capture a fleeting moment, it never was about painting everything as realistic as possible. Monet explained in an interview in 1874, 2 years after he completed it, how his work got its name:
“A landscape is only an impression, instantaneous, hence the label they’ve given us– all because of me, for that matter. I’d submitted something done out of my window at Le Havre, sunlight in the mist with a few masts in the foreground jutting up from the ships below. They wanted a title for the catalog; it couldn’t really pass as a view of Le Havre, so I answered: “Put down Impression.” Out of that they got impressionism, and the jokes proliferated….”
Monet made several different versions of this painting of impression sunrise in 1872. One interpretation of the paintings is that the painting celebrates the new beginning after the Preussian-Franco War that Monet had fled, because if you look closely you can see smoking chimneys at the horizon. Of course the sun rising than gets the symbolic meaning that France was on the rise/rising over their former problems.
Monet is considered one of the best impressionists. Even in his time he was very successful especially for an impressionist. The style was rejected at first by art critics and important art institutions like the salon which was the official art exhibition for The Académie des Beaux-Arts. This work by Monet influenced many other impressionists. Monet didn’t really care too much about the critics though. He and some other like-minded artist decided to join forces and put up their art exhibition of works that the salon refused to show to the public. Ofcourse their rejection only ensured that the public definitely wanted to see what the fuzz was all about. The best thing about it was that about 3500 people paid 60 francs to get in even though the majority of them came to have a good laugh. But eventually the joke was on the art snobs that had rejected them because many of the rebels are nowadays famous while many of the painters that created art following all the rules are forgotten by now. The salon of the rejected as they called themselves had very famous artists participating: Altogether, 165 works were exhibited in the exhibition, including 4 oils, 2 pastels and 3 watercolors by Morisot; 6 oils and 1 pastel by Renoir; 10 works by Degas; 5 by Pissarro; 3 by Cézanne; and 3 by Guillaumin. Several works were on loan, including Cézanne’s Modern Olympia, Morisot’s Hide and Seek (owned by Manet) and 2 landscapes by Sisley that had been purchased by Durand-Ruel.
Manet decided not to join them despite the rejection by the salon of his now famous painting luncheon on the grass.
Of all the artists Monet and Cezanne were criticized most. A critic that was particularly harsh and said to have coined the term impressionism was Louis Leroy critic for Le Charivari ( an illustrated magazine published in Paris from 1832 to 1937):
‘Ah! This is it, this is it!: he cried in front of n. 98. ‘This one is Papa Vincent’s favorite! What is this a painting of? Look in the catalogue.’ ‘Impression, Sunrise.’ ‘Impression– I knew it. I was just saying to myself, if I’m impressed, there must be an impression in there… And what freedom, what ease in the brushwork! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more labored than this seascape!”
Jules Castagnary for Le Siecle wrote that the group of painters could be described by no other word beside the new term impressionists, since they rendered the “sensation evoked by the landscape” rather than the landscape. He claimed that “The very word has entered their language: not landscape, but impression, in the title given in the catalog for M. Monet’s Sunrise. From this point of view, they have left reality behind for a realm of pure idealism”, typified by Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.
Théodore Duret was the first art critic to embrace impressionism and he defended Monet by writing “it is certainly the peculiar qualities of Claude Monet’s paintings which first suggested [the term impressionism]”. He called Monet ” the Impressionist painter par excellence”. He argued that Monet inspired a new way of seeing and painting, that Monet was “no longer painting merely the immobile and permanent aspect of a landscape, but also the fleeting appearances which the accidents of atmosphere present to him, Monet transmits a singularly lively and striking sensation of the observed scene”
The same year he painted sunrise impression he also painted a lesser-known painting The Grand Dock at Le Havre in 1872 and 1874; the museum in Le Havre in 1873 and the Trade Basin and the Harbor of Le Havre in 1874.
I really enjoyed diving into Monet’s childhood and see that he may have left the city as a young man, but it clearly was a safe- haven for him even later in life.
Bonsoir mon amis! Hilde