Monet Research from L'Orangerie

CLAUDE MONET at the Marmottan and Orangerie museums in Paris

Personal notes from my viewing experience at these museums on a research trip toParis and Giverny


It’s interesting to note how much the paintings change over time – was it Monet’s eyesight? Natural development of the work? Boredom, experimentation…? All of the above?!

The later works have a completely different colour key, they are much darker and have a lot of maroon and yellow ochre, green and orange. They have a lot of more onvious brushwork too. Some still have the vivid violet colouring, like the colour of things at night/twilight., I prefer these ones I must admit (perhaps just conditioning or expectation of Monet?)

Many of these works here in the Marmottan feel like studies (yet are hung as finished works). There’s a sense of a rush about them, I guess a sense of hurriedness which is an interesting element of time to have in a picture. They move too, the weeping willow leaves flutter and wriggle more than anything else on the canvas. A couple of work seem more abstract (for lack of a better word). One called Glycines, a long horizontal piece that looks like wistaria, but has this crazy light violet colour that is taking over the canvas like some of the earlier works actually – like Gare St Lazare where the patches of steam from the trains is the same colour as the sky and looks like it is eating away patches of the picture.
I love the early works actually, snow landscape, train in snow, London in fog…they all reference nature/landscape/weather.

There is a lot of movement in the later works, but the colour seems really off, they don’t ‘sing’ they’ve become muddied to the point of losing something, some have an ‘ugliness’ that works, in others I think they’ve gone too far. People lap them up though seemingly without much thought. It’s a funny thing the tourist art circuit.

The movement comes partly from directional brushwork, but mostly I think it is from the very closely judged relationship between colour and tone that makes the works so interesting. It’s the ones closest in tonality that work for me – it’s colour then primarily that he’s so good at.

L’Orangerie, Nympheas series

And tourism killed the paintings…

It’s so hard to see these works amidst the crowds taking their photos and listening to their audio guides. There is a continual stream of people asking the guides “which is No 1?” like it’s a tour they have to do from start to finish. No one seems to actually look at the paintings. No one stops. I guess when you succeed with something at the level that Monet has – you fail in the end to do what you set out to. People don’t actually see these paintings, they visit them like a site and pose in front of them.

The works are like clouds of violet smoke which slowly reveal little bits of a picture, a perspective, a bunch of waterlilies. The lighter areas – reflected clouds on the water? – eat into the surface eroding the illusion of depth that comes and goes across the picture plane. This aspect of the works reminds me of the earlier little train steam work ‘Gare St Lazare’ that does the same thing.

They’re peaceful works for the most part, quiet and restful. There is not a lot of movement, although it’s very hard to get a real sense of them, they underwhelm at first viewing this time. The colour is mesmerising in moments, but the draftsmanship seems clumsy, annoyingly so, is this deliberate?

Initially I didn’t like the works in the first room, but after a while in the second space which is dominated by mauve and so restful, so similar, so pretty – the return into the first room with its stronger and slightly jarring colours is surprisingly refreshing. Even the autumnal work I first thought was muddy, actually I really like. Why? Because it has guts. It has ugliness which it needs. It has autumn – decay, sticks and stalks where flowers bloomed. It has a lot of movement, flickering loose brushwork.

It irritates me slightly though that the paintings and made up of panels and the joins are really visible. They are obviously painted separately and some joins don’t meet up. I guess that must be deliberate?

For my own work I’d like to make them seamless. They need to be all in one piece. I will put works together to make a large environment, but each needs to stand alone as a painting.