Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and Argenteuil

Women in the Garden, 1866
Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)
Oil on canvas; 10 1/16 x 8 1/16 in. (25.5 x 20.5 cm)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Monet is forever associated with the garden at Giverny. However some of the most famous Impressionist paintings of gardens are associated with the time Monet spent at Argenteuil.

Monet established a theme early in his career for painting landscape and leisure activities. He was also used to painting 'en plein air' (painting outdoors in the open air).

His first large scale work of note is Women in the Garden 1866.
Monet's devotion to painting out of doors is illustrated by the famous story concerning one of his most ambitious early works, Women in the Garden (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; 1866-67). The picture is about 2.5 meters high and to enable him to paint all of it outside he had a trench dug in the garden so that the canvas could be raised or lowered by pulleys to the height he required. Courbet visited him when he was working on it and said Monet would not paint even the leaves in the background unless the lighting conditions were exactly right.
WebMuseum - Monet
Now I know studying the masters helps all of us to think about different ways of approaching our art - but I wasn't expecting that one!

The Salon rejected this work. Apparently being a known associate of Manet who had already scandalised Paris with Le déjeuner sur l'herbe also did not help.
The composition of the three young women in the painting followed the academic manners of the day. However, while the patterns on the women';s dresses carried the fine detail of a photograph, Monet left the breeze blown blossoms and the starry buttercups and daisies in the foreground vague and impressionistic. These flowers, the dappled play of light on the overhanging tress and the sense of being out of doors on a feisty spring afternoon combined to make "Femmes au Jardin" an uncoventional picture.
Bill Laws Artists' Gardens
According to Debra Mancoff in her book 'Monet's Garden in Art', Zola was writing art criticism at the time and the painting caught his eye. He praised Monet and his colleague for painting life precisely as they saw it rather than according to conventional ideals. He considered it entirely appropriate that artists should be painting modern day subjects as part of contemporary art.

After the rejection by the Salon, Monet and his friends decided to join forces to become more independent of the Salon and to set up a separate exhibition. As a result, their way of painting was eventually called 'Impressionism'.
Returning to France, Monet moved first to Argenteuil, just fifteen minutes from Paris by train, then west to Vétheuil, Poissy, and finally to the more rural Giverny in 1883. His homes and gardens became gathering places for friends, including Manet and Renoir, who often painted alongside their host (1976.201.14). Yet Monet's paintings cast a surprisingly objective eye on these scenes, which include few signs of domestic relations.
Metropolitan Museum of Art - Claude Monet - Timeline
In 1870, Monet rented a house in the suburb of Argenteuil. He began to garden and to paint in his garden. Monet was also painted by other Impressionist painters in his garden at Argenteuil. These included Manet and Renoir. You can see a description of the arrangement in this narrative produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to accompany the Manet painting of the Monet Family in their garden at Argenteuil.

Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil, 1873
Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
Oil on canvas, 46 x 60 cm

Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford

The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, 1874
Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)
Oil on canvas; 24 x 39 1/4 in. (61 x 99.7 cm)

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975 (1976.201.14)

Monet's paintings atArgenteuil are of domesticity, family, friends and flowers. Apparently Monet recalled years later that the garden soothed him during difficult times and became a refuge when he was tending his plants. For him working at his easel in his own garden merged his various loves.

Here are some of the paintings he produced. - the Artist's Garden at Argenteuil and Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist's garden at Argenteuil (1875). Camille, his wife, died in 1879

Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist's Garden in Argenteuil, 1875
Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926
Oil on canvas, 55.3 x 64.7 cm (21 3/4 x 25 1/2 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In (1873) he painted Camille in the garden six times. This was the first time that the garden, which became such an all-domnating subject for Monet's later work, featured as an important living environment. It was where the family passed the time, a place of social encounters and a workshop. The garden was both public and intimate. Art and life entered into a happy association that gave birth to a new type of picture beyond the genres of portrait, landscape and still life in Monet's work - the garden picture
Mareike Hennig in The Painter's Garden
Monet's Approach - Suggested Learning Points

Monet's approach to painting gardens at this stage involved:
  • painting from life outdoors and in the open air - note that this does not equate to painting 'alla prima' (finishing a painting in one session)
  • painting in natural light and only when the light is right
  • making adjustments in order to paint on a big canvas
  • a contemporary emphasis on objective painting of modern subjects and life as he saw it rather than conventional ideals - and the development of a new genre associated with painting in the garden ("the garden picture") eg
    • painting friends in the garden
    • painting wives and children in the garden
    • painting each other as artists in the garden
Do please comment if you feel there are learning points which should be added or whether any of those suggested should be discussed further.



Making A Mark said...

I do apologise - I updated this quite a bit after it was first posted. I found some more information (eg The Painters Garden quotation) which made it more coherent in terms of conclusion and I didn't see the point of waiting until another post.

Lindsay said...

Katherine, I found a wonderful book in my local library that you might enjoy: Cezanne's Garden by Derek Fell. (Who knew Cezanne had a garden???) The author had photographed the garden and where ever possible, shown the pictures or drawings that go with the area.Anyway, I thought of you immediately.

Making A Mark said...

Thank you Lindsay. I've not seen that one before. My immediate reaction was to try and remember why I knew the author's name but it's not come to me yet.

I have in fact got a book ("Artists' Gardens" by Bill Laws) which I'm finding is excellent the more I read. It has a significant chapter on Cezanne's garden at Chemin des Lauves overlooking Aix-en-Provence. I've actually visited this house as well which helps).

I mus confess though I think I always used to think of Provence as Cezanne's garden!

Lindsay said...

I checked the jacket flap and found Derek Fell was born and educated in England but now lives in the US. Well, you know I HAVE to get to Europe so now I have yet another reason: Cezanne's Provance.

Making A Mark said...

If you go to Aix to visit Cezanne's house and studio the only thing you need to bear in mind is that it's up a hill which makes it quite a taxing walk on a very hot day!

Unknown said...

Dr Claire Willson wrote a wonderful book 'Gardens of Impressionism' in which she describes the significance of gardens in terms of their social purpose in modernist France. She also discusses the symbolism in specific flowers, for example at the time of 'Women in the Garden' Camille is holding a white rose which in the 19th century language of flowers symbolises 'a pure heart'. Monet's aunt at Saint Adresse was part of a growing number of bourgoise gardners in the area who were part of the increasingly fashionable 'grand movement horticulture' developing private gardens to emulate the public parks of the empire and the creation and introduction of new species of plant. This type of garden painting allowed for greater experimentation in technique and was influenced by Delacroix and his interest in the emerging colour theory of the age.

Making A Mark said...

I've got that one - bought after I posted this original post six years ago in 2007

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