Where? Gallery 85 of the National Gallery of Art
What do you see? Claude Monet painted his wife Camille and their eldest son Jean who are out for a stroll on a windy and sunny day. Monet captures a brief moment during some quality time with his family. Madame Monet and her son stand on a small hill given the position of Jean, and they are looking towards the painter Claude Monet. In the foreground is a field with yellow wildflowers and grass. Madame Monet holds a green and blue parasol in both hands to protect herself from the sun, while her son is wearing a hat. Madame Monet wears a light-colored dress and jacket on top of it. Jean is standing with his hands in his pocket and seems to be wearing a light shirt and a blue tie. Based on the shadow of Madame Monet in the foreground, we know that the sunlight is coming from the top right. You can clearly see the effects of the strong wind by the veil of Madame Monet which is blown around her face, the shape of her dress, and the movement of the wildflowers in the foreground. Monet integrates his wife and son with the environment. The colors of the blue sky and the white clouds come back in the top of the parasol and the clothing of Madame Monet and her son. However, notice also the subtle hints of pink and yellow in the dress of Madame Monet and the usage of red and green in the hat of her son.
Backstory: This painting is also referred to ‘The Stroll’ and Monet created this painting in several hours. The Monet family lived at this time in Argenteuil, which is now a suburb of Paris, but at that time it was a rural village northwest of Paris. The son of Claude Monet is seven years old at the time of the painting and Madame Monet 28. In 1965, the painting was bought by the American philanthropist Paul Mellon and his wife, Bunny Mellon. They donated the painting in 1983 to the National Gallery of Art.
Symbolism: The parasol, the veil, and the dress of Madame Monet are symbols of status, even though the Monet family was not rich at all during that moment. The parasol also symbolizes protection. The countryside in this painting contrasts with the cities and industry among which Monet grew up and which he did not like. Finally, the light color of the dress refers to the purity of Madame Monet.
Who is Monet? Claude Monet (1840-1926) was born in Paris. He married to Camille Doncieoux in 1870. Their first son, Jean, was born in 1867. Claude Monet adored Camille and used her as a model in many of his paintings. Unfortunately, she died in 1879 at the age of 32. In the Musée d’Orsay, you can find a painting by Monet of his wife on her deathbed. In 1892, he married Alice Hoschedé. The daughter of Alice from her earlier marriage, Blanche, married to the Monet’s son Jean who is depicted in this painting. Monet is an Impressionist painter and primarily applied this style during his career to paint landscapes. In 1883, he moved to Giverny, about 45 miles northwest of Paris, where he developed a large landscaping project including several lily ponds, which are the source for many of his famous painting of the lily ponds.
What is Impressionism? The Impressionist art style started in the 1860s in France. The style is characterized by small, but visible brush strokes. For example, if you study this painting of Monet closely, you can clearly see the brush strokes. This is best illustrated by the white brush strokes in the sky on the left side of the painting. Impressionism was initially developed by painters such as Monet and Renoir and later also adopted by painters like Pissarro and Cézanne. Besides the type of brush strokes, these painters also focused on simple subjects for their art (scenes from daily life), the focus on the accurate depiction of light in the paintings, and by including a sense of movement in the painting. The Impressionist style has been named after a painting of Monet in 1872, entitled Impression, Sunrise, which is now in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. Impressionism was the basis for future styles such as neo-impressionism and post-impressionism. Two well-known post-impressionists are Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Fun fact: In 1876, Monet ‘sold’ this painting to the Romanian art collector and homeopath George de Bellio. This homeopath was the doctor of Madame Monet during her illnesses, and as the Monet family did not have much money, they usually paid him with some of Monet’s artworks. George de Bellio was a big fan of Impressionism and used similar arrangements with artists such as Manet, Pissarro, and Renoir. The children of George de Bellio donated the collection of their father between 1957 and 1966 to the Musée Marmottan Monet, and this museum has, nowadays, the largest collection of Monet paintings.