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Our Lady Collegiate church in Vernon
A whole site dedicated to this monumeent (in English)
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Vernon half-timbered houses
A whole site about our numerous old houses (In French only, sorry !)
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Vernon Giverny Website auf deutsch

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The Old Mill in Vernon
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Monet's house and garden at Giverny
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The XIIth c. castle keep in Vernon
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Visits, indeed, but there are so many other things to do in Vernon
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Walking and cycling around Vernon
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Museums in Vernon (paintings by Monet) and Giverny
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A walk in the streets of Giverny
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The water lily pond at Giverny
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Tourelles castle in Vernon
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Monet, the Seine
and Normandy


Monet a man of Normandy, a man of the Seine ?
Who could doubt it? Just look at the places where he lived. Born in Paris, he spent his childhood and teenage years in Le Havre and the remaining 43 years of his life in Giverny, at the junction of the Seine and the Epte, where he died in 1926. Between these two places that framed his life, others punctuated it, Bougival, Argenteuil, Poissy and Vétheuil, still along the river Seine which he used to paint in all weather and seasons. And do not forget his stays in Rouen and several others on the Seine, between Vernon and Vétheuil.


Monet's house at Vétheuil

The Seine at Lavacourt , 1880 - Dallas Museum of Arts
(click to enlarge
)


Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939) Woman in a garden, ca. 1912 © TFAA
Does anyone need another proof of his being a Norman? It is said that Normans rarely open their doors to strangers, that they are unfriendly old bears. The same was also said about Monet, who was rarely seen strolling through the streets of Giverny and who used to answer villagers' greeting with a gruff 'morning'. As to opening his door, this was only for a few close friends such as Clemenceau, Geffrey ou Bonnard, the painter, almost his neighbour. The majority of the American painters who formed the 'Giverny colony' hardly ever saw him and its was exceptional for any of them to be allowed to enter his house. Consider the example of Frieseke who lived almost thirty years next door to Monet . He was invited by the latter only after many years, and even then the main guest was not Frieseke, the painter, but Mrs Frieseke, who, because she had a passion for gardening, was on friendly terms with Monet.

At the age of 16, Monet made Eugène Boudin's acquaintance, a painter from Honfleur. This is also where he met Jongkind and these two artists introduced the teenager to open-air painting. Also in Honfleur, Saint Siméon farm was the place where, a few years later, Monet and other 'enfants terribles' of impressionist painting used to meet.


Phare de l'Hospice, 1864 - Kunsthaus, Zurich

Trouville, a few kilometres from there, is another place, the beaches, sea and sky of which were Monet's source of inspiration.

 

 

These are the places that structured his painting, the landscapes of the English Channel and its sky, harbours, beaches and cliffs.


The beach at Trouville, 1870 (click to enlarge)
With Monet's brush, beaches are full of light colours and the sky becomes an ever-renewed spectacle. The sky over the sea is always changing, and the horizon line is nothing but a pretext for a study in blue. Sea and clouds are in harmony. Monet is the painter of marine atmosphere, in blue colours incessantly transformed by the changing light of Normandy

Regatta in Saint Adresse, 1867 - Metropolitan Museum of Art (click to enlarge)

Monet is indeed an open-air painter , but he goes much beyond mere observation and he never stops asking questions about his art. What is the essence of landscape painting? How can this be achieved ? How to create a painting both descriptive and expressive? The answers to these questions came during his 1880 holiday on the Norman coast: the coastline and the cliffs were the impetus for his work for the next four years and, in front of these cliffs, he re-invented his art with more freedom of creation.

 .

The Sainte Adresse cottages in Le Havre where Monet often came to stay at his aunt's (left).
Right) Juliette cottage at Pourville where Monet spent several weeks' holiday.

His stays at Pourville (near Dieppe), in particular, provided him with the range of subjects he needed: cliffs, fishing nets, a church and first of all the sea. This is where he began painting the series that were to make him so famous, by painting the same subject at various hours, days, and in changing weather conditions.

Here are a few canvasses, part of a series that was painted later (1896): the cliffs at Pourville.

. Sunset effect at Pourville , 1896 - Museum of Vernon (Click to enlarge)

Pourville - Cliffs
1896

Cliff at Pourville

Falaise at Pourville in the morning - Museum of Montréal

 

When talking about Normandy, one often thinks about its capricious weather, mild but so humid, it is said, about its clouds and its fog. It is true that the sky in Normandy can change quickly: As they are being blown and dispersed away by North-western winds, clouds cast shadows on the river Seine. The sky also exhibits a very delicate range of shades from one day to the next or even from one hour to the next, pale, milky, dense, dark or fluffy. The sun may be shining and darting its beams and almost suddenly disappear hidden by mist or fog. And Monet tried to capture all these nuances.



The Seine near Vétheuil, Storm, 1878
Private collection


Two anglers, 1882 -Private collection



The cliffs at Petites Dalles, 1880 -Museum of Fine Arts -USA


This is how Monet's paintings are imbued with atmosphere from the Norman seacoast. The sky and its shades of blue, milky white or ash grey clouds, the wind blowing softly or violently, everything is suggested on the canvas by colours subtly juxtaposed. Later the master was also fascinated by the fog on the Thames in London or on the Seine with motions and reflections that became subjects endlessly repeated on their own.




The Houses of Parliament , 1904 - Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, USA (Click to enlarge)


Arm of the Seine near Giverny - Fog, 1897 - North Carolina Museum of Art (Click to enlarge)


Arm of the Seine near Giverny - Fog, 1897 - Private collection (Click to enlarge)


The works below, from a series of eight painted in 1894, clearly show how Monet could play with the interaction between sky and water.


The church at Vernon - Sun
(Click to enlarge)

The church at Vernon - Fog - Collection Rosengart, Lucerne (Click to enlarge)

The church at Vernon - Grey weather - Private collection (Click to enlarge)

The church at Vernon - Fog - Shelburne Museum, USA (Click to enlarge)


And then there is also the wind rustling through the poplars which inspired him the lightness of touch found in many canvasses painted along the river Epte.


opposite : The Epte valley in Giverny, 1889

below, on the left: Three trees in summer, 1891 - National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

below, on the right : Poplars, white and yellow effect, 1891 - Philadelphia Museum of Art




All through Monet's work can one find the leitmotif of water and light seized in all their forms during the open-air sessions. Since the time when he used to paint riverscapes around Argenteuil, he has never stopped being fascinated by the water on which light plays with coloured and iridescent shades, reflects, streaks, glitters and shimmers. Monet has splendidly recorded all this in all his works.


The water lily pool, harmony in green - 1899 - Musée d'Orsay
The bridge over the water lily pool, Giverny - 1900 - The Art Institute of Chicago
The water lily pool, iris - 1900 - Private collection (Click to enlarge)


Contemplating the sky reflected in the water lead Monet to turn his back on realistic outlines and took him to the verge of abstraction. Perspective and space, that once were so important to him a few years before, disappeared from his paintings. He stopped looking at the Japanese bridge, the flowers and plants and immersed himself in the contemplation of water mirroring clouds in the sky.

But it is still the Norman sky, changing and capricious, that is reflected in the water lily pool , whose variegated surface can change from violet to lavender blue...

 

 

Water lilies, 1908 - Museum of Vernon
(Click to enlarge)

... It is also the golden light of the sun that Monet perceives on the pool: a orange yellow beam streaks the water amidst the darker reflection of the trees.

 

 


Water lilies, 1907 - Mr Reruo Akai, Dainichi Co, Ltd (Click to enlarge)

Shapes and space have disappeared after Monet has finally wrought a complete transmutation of colours and elements so that the sky, the earth, water and plants intermingle in paintings very near abstraction. During the 1899 exhibition in Boston and London, the organisers saw him as the one who "shattered shapes" , transforming a visual impression into an abstract perception; thus making Monet , together with Cézanne, one of the founders of modern painting and of the poetics of our time.


Le bassin aux nymphéas, 1917 - 1919 - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bibliography and webography

* Sur les pas des Impressionistes, Sophie Monneret, (éditions de la Martinière, 1997)

* Monet / Nymphéas, Christian Geelhaar (éditions Seghers, 1988)

* Claude Monet : « Vous me bombardez d’un monstrueux caillou de lumière... », Marie-Annick Sékaly
http://www.clio.fr/BIBLIOTHEQUE/claude_monet___vous_me_bombardez_d_un_monstrueux_caillou_
de_lumiere_.asp

* Monet's Long, Luminous Journey to the Edge of Abstraction, by Souren Melikian - International Herald Tribune
http://www.iht.com/articles/1999/07/17/monet.t.php

* Exploitation en interdisciplinarité de l’oeuvre de Monet, à Giverny par Marie-Rose Faure, DEFPAR / Institut de France
http://www.ac-rouen.fr/pedagogie/equipes/monet/plan.htm



Other pages about Claude Monet, his life, his garden and his work

* Welcome to Giverny : a practical guide for the visit of the garden
* The making of Claude Monet's garden
* Giverny, where crossbreeding takes place
* List of plants and flowers
* Calendar of flowering times

Giverny: an American colony : the history of the artists who came to Giverny in Monet's time

More 'exotic' and unexpected
* Giverny in Uncle Sam's country: Old Lyme et Cos Cob
* Giverny in the land of the Rising Sun : Kitagawa