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Claude Monet by himself, part 3 – Shocking the public ‘en plein air’

Cart on the snow covered road with St Simeon farm 1865 (near Honfleur, Normandy) by Claude Monet age 24

In the previous instalment Monet was disappointed with his tutor’s traditional vies, but has made friends with fellow students Renoir, Sisley and Bazille…

My story, by Claude Monet (part 3)

I forgot to tell you that I had recently met Jongkind. During my convalescent leave one fine afternoon I worked on a farm near Le Havre. As a cow grazed in a meadow the idea came to me to draw the good beast. But the good beast was capricious and, at every moment, moved. My horse in one hand my stool in the other, I followed to find the best view of her I could.

My antics must have been very funny for there was a great roar of laughter behind me. I turn round and I see a giant. But the giant was a good one. “Wait” he said “I help you.” And the giant with great strides reached the cow and, grabbing it by the horns, tries to force her to pose. The cow, which was not used to this sort of behaviour, resisted strongly. Then it was my turn to explode with laughter. The giant, crestfallen, let the cow go and came over to chat with me.

He was an Englishman, travelling through, who loved painting and was very informed about what was happening in our country.

“So you make landscapes” he said.

“Well, yes.”

“Do you know Jongkind?”

“No, but I have seen some of his paintings”

“What do you think of them?”

“They are very good”

“You are right, do you know that he is here?”

“Are you sure?”

“He lives at Honfleur. Would you like to meet him?”

“Certainly, I would. Are you one of his friends ?”

“I did not know him, but as soon as I learned he was here I sent him my card. I’ll invite him to have lunch with you.”

The Englishman, to my surprise, kept his word and on the following Sunday we were all having dinner together.

The railroad dock at Honfleur by Johan Barthold Jongkind

Never was a meal so cheerful, in the open air in a country garden, under the trees in front of a good rustic kitchen.  But with a full glass, between two admirers whose sincerity was in no doubt, Jongkind did not feel quite at ease. The unexpected meeting amused him but he was not accustomed to being so sought after.

His painting style was too new and too artistic to be appreciated in 1862 and he did not know how to promote himself. He was a very simple man who spoke abominably French, and very shy. But he was very expansive that day. I showed him my sketches and he invited me to come and work with him.  He explained why and how he worked, thereby completing the teaching I had already received from Boudin. He became from that moment my true master and it is to him that I owe my fundamental training.

I saw him in Paris very often. My painting, needless to say, improved. The progress I made was rapid. Three years later, I exhibited. The two seascapes I sent in were received with a number one, hung on the rail in a fine position. They were a big success. The same unanimous praise was given, in 1866, for a large portrait that hung at Durand-Ruel for a long time, the Woman in Green.

Camille.  This painting is also known as the Woman in Green. By Claude Monet, 1866

The newspapers carried my name to Le Havre. The family were at last proud of me and with their returned esteem returned my allowance. I swam in opulence, temporarily at least, for we fell out again as I threw myself into the ‘open air’.

En plein air, painting in the open air, was a dangerous novelty. No one had done so, not even Manet, who did not try it until later, after me. His painting was still very classical, and I still remember the contempt with which he spoke of my first efforts. It was in 1867 that my style was accused of being revolutionary, to say the least. I was far from adopting the principle of separating paint colours which turned so many people against me, but I began to try it out. And I practised with effects of light and colour in a way that was very unconventional.

The exhibition committee who had so well received me at first, turned against me.  I was ignominiously turned away when I presented this new painting style at the Salon. I found, all the same, a means of exhibiting, but elsewhere. Moved by my entreaties, a merchant who had his shop in the Rue Auber consented to display a seascape of mine, refused by the Palais de l’Industrie.  He was a brave man.

Tomorrow part 4 – The power of friendship

Regatta at Sainte Adresse, by Claude Monet 1867

Notes

Claude Monet by Claude Monet, as told to Thiébault-Sisson, published on 26 November 1900 in ‘Le Temps’ newspaper

Read the original article in Le Temps on Gallica

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