Stacks of Monet;The Big Picture

5th February 1999 at 00:00
ooking into the heart of light, the silence," wrote T S Eliot in his 'Four Quartets', words that could have been tailor-made to describe the work of Claude Monet.

The unwitting founder of Impressionism (a mocking term devised by critics unimpressed by his painting "Impression: Sunrise") was unrecognised in his youth. A draft-dodger in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, and practically blind for the last two decades of his life, Claude Oscar Monet (1840-1926) is far more famous now. Witness the blockbuster queues outside London's Royal Academy.

His early professional life was beset by rejection. His method of sketching "en plein air" (outside) to work directly from nature, his use of strong, distinct, but interwoven brushstrokes, his attempts to capture the idea of a moment, were all derided when his paintings were first shown in 1874. Undeterred, Monet painted on, despite the early death of his much-loved wife.

By 1890-91, when he painted these "Haystacks" in a long series of haystacks paintings, Impressionism - a term embracing the work of Pissarro, Monet, Guillaumin, Cezanne and others- was part of the artistic landscape. Monet rented a house at Giverny, north-east of Paris, where he tended a beautiful garden and lived with family and friends.

In 1906 he developed cataracts, and so, while painting the waterlilies series now on show at the RA, was nearly blind; perhaps, like the deaf Beethoven composing complex harmonies, Monet's blurred vision cleared him to see the light. At any rate, he declared that all moments contain absolute truth, whilecarefully preparing his apparently spontaneous pictures. His later paintings were less popular at the time, to Monet's regret.

His view was direct: "Everyone discusses (my art) and pretends to understand it as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."


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