F. Patrick Butler

Book V- CLAUDE MONET: Impressionist

Book V- CLAUDE MONET: Impressionist

"When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own na´ve impression of the scene before you."

Claude Monet

"Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized."

Adolph Hitler

Chapter 1: Pissarro's Plan

Chapter 1: Pissarro's Plan

"You're late Claude!" Camille scolded, fussing with her husband's jacket, brushing off stray dog hairs as she circled. He stood stiffly for his grooming, a broad shouldered man, one who preferred tailored and close-fitting twill suits from England. The young artist had been working intensely throughout the day on his sketches, and usually did so until interrupted at seven by two rings of the dinner bell. It was a familiar routine. After eating, he invariably went to bed early to catch the dawn the following morning.

Tonight was different and there was no time for dinner. The gas lamps had already flickered on in the hallway of their snug home and she hurried him through the door into the evening chill. He set out towards the station, striding briskly, only glancing back to wave perfunctorily in the twilight, anxious that he might miss the train to Paris. Despite December's icy moods, the path had no snow, but in fact smelled of sweet wet grass, for 1873 was a mild winter in Argenteuil.

Pissarro, his old comrade, had called an urgent council of mutual friends from the Studio Suisse days. Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Sisley were expected to gather that evening at the Café Riche, a traditional hangout for drinking and debates. Renoir had warned Monet that the agenda would be controversial and shouldn't be missed.

Pissarro was particularly keen to have Monet's support for a new idea creating a Société anonyme des peintres, sculpteurs, et graveurs, as he had explained in a recent letter, sort of a commercial association of artisans. Paul Gauguin, Pissarro's new student, a former banker and entrepreneur had suggested the idea, but that was only a rumor of course, no one really knew for sure. Others simply attributed the idea to the critics' recent disdain for their efforts. Nevertheless, Pissarro's desire to stage a sizable show of the group's own work without the involvement of the prestigious but conservative Salon was at its core. It would be the first time that artists in Paris exhibited their art to the public without the intermediary of a jury, but also without the expectation of prizes. Feelings were running high among the artists and arguments at the Riche though short-lived, often spilled into the boulevard, igniting shoving matches and cursing.

Monet slouched against the bench, his body swaying with the train's motion as it clacked along to Paris from Argenteuil. Fellow passengers would have seen a thirty-three year old man lost in thought, handsome and bearded, in tweed suit and cap staring through the window at the quiet villages drifting by in the night. What they couldn't see was a churlish man frequently possessed by anger, continually critical of himself and others, and often terrorizing his domestic staff. Monet invariably rejected compromise. He had his better moments of course, but life was difficult. His career was erratic and he himself pestered by financial worries spurred by meager commissions, which struggled to support a large family and this year's mounting Christmas bills.

Now things were getting worse. He reached inside his jacket for a newspaper article and unfolding it reread La Presse's harsh review of his group's recent projects: "The scribblings of a child have a naiveté and sincerity that make you smile; the debaucheries of this school are nauseating and revolting." His lips moved inaudibly, "those bastards...idiots."

Originally contemptuous of Pissarro's plan, Monet's finances were becoming desperate and his mood had changed. Perhaps decent money could be made after all, the public was hungry for new work. The idea seemed childish at first, Pissarro was always dreaming up some damned adventure or other. But it was also true, something had to be done about the Salon; the one in 1872 had been a disaster to artists and public alike. Good work, hard work, by both he and his fellows had been left stranded in their studios because committees of pompous, wintry men at the Salon often barred their exhibition. The Salon required that contemporary paintings remain classic in technique, embodying virtue and civic dedication. But what did they know of contemporary art? His mood darkened. These mucosy old connivers were neither interested in the livelihood of aspiring artists nor the new directions of the naturalists Barbizon painters. Certainly not capturing on canvas the appearance of factories, railroads and magnificent steamships from the new industrial era. As even the public knew, those imbeciles had rejected so many artists in the last exhibit that Napoleon III was forced to intercede and required the Salon to hold a separate Salon des Refusés to help the artists market their paintings! But things were changing. France was a phoenix rising from the ashes of her Napoleonic wars...reborn, young, exciting and progressive. Art, any artistic pleasure: poetry, literature, or music he believed should reflect it.

Passengers began to gather their bundles as the train pulled into the station. He removed an old crone's bag from the rack above and mumbled goodbye. Alfred Sisley, a fellow painter of seemingly modest talents, was to meet Monet at the Gare Saint-Lazare in the Eighth Arrondissement. As Monet stepped down from the train, Sisley, in bowler hat and large black coat was already talking: "Did you hear?"



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