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Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism is on view now!

In the late 19th century, Claude Monet and other rebellious artists staged a privately organized exhibition of work in a new, contemporary style. This new style, and in particular one painting by Monet, led the group to become known to the world as the Impressionists.

Claude Monet, photo by Nadar, 1899
Claude Monet, photo by Nadar, 1899

Claude Monet’s family moved from Paris to the northern port city of Le Havre when he was five years old. The Normandy beaches would provide the artist with so much inspiration during the first three decades of his career. Moreover, it was in Le Havre that young Monet first met Eugène Boudin, the artist who encouraged him to paint outdoors and to study the various effects of natural light. This approach to landscape painting would prove instrumental in Monet’s mature Impressionist style.

In 1870, before the onset of the Franco-Prussian War, Claude Monet and his new bride Camille Doncieux visited Trouville on the Normandy coast. Village Street was most likely painted on that trip, and it reveals Monet’s tendency to omit unessential detail in favor of a broad, generalizing impression. Painting clouds, trees, buildings, and a glimpse of the English Channel with just a few quick dashes of his brushes, Monet captured the effects of the late afternoon sun casting deep shadows across a broad avenue. Monet may have painted this canvas in one sitting, which demanded great powers of observation and sure brushwork. Those qualities gave expression to an arrested moment, and lent Village Street its sense of authentic experience.

Claude Monet counted himself among a circle of landscape painters that included Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and others. In 1874, they banded together with other artists, including Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot, and in an act of artistic rebellion, staged a privately organized exhibition in the Paris studio of Nadar, a well-known photographer (who also took the portrait of Monet shown on this page). Among the other works Monet sent to that first group exhibition was a painting called Impression, Sunrise. Critics mocked the title. One writer dubbed the group the Impressionists, thereby giving a style its name and forging a collective identity upon what had largely been an independent action.

In February 1882, Monet stopped in Dieppe, a fishing port on the Normandy coast, to sketch its pebbled beaches and the nearby cliffs at Étretat. In Port of Dieppe, Evening, Monet painted the old harbor town looking back from the battlements as the sun set over the bell tower of Saint Jacques. Dieppe eases into darkness, but the twilight sky radiates luminous reds, yellows, and greens that are reflected in the stillness of the icy harbor.  Monet would remain fascinated by the transitory effects of natural light his entire career.