Port of Le Havre (1874) by Claude Monet, French, 1840 - 1926Philadelphia Museum of Art
Monet and Normandy
Born in Paris, Monet (1840–1926)
was brought up in Normandy, a region of northern France with a rich medieval
history, many historic buildings, and scenic countryside.
As a young man he absorbed the concept of the ‘picturesque’ landscape, an aesthetic with its origins in 18th-century England, which found particular beauty in old buildings placed in rustic settings. Monet painted the Normandy coastline, countryside, and villages throughout his career, interspersed with trips further afield.
Monet often sought out the picturesque aesthetic of his home region on his travels to the south of France, and abroad in London, Venice, and the Netherlands.
Relatively early in his career, in 1871, Monet stayed in Zaandam, a town north of Amsterdam, for four months.
The Windmill on the Onbekende Gracht, Amsterdam (1874) by Claude MonetThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
A few years later he returned to the Netherlands to visit Amsterdam.
View of the Prins Hendrikkade and the Kromme Waal in Amsterdam (1874) by Claude MonetVan Gogh Museum
Like many visitors, he was captivated by Holland’s colourful houses and windmills, using their distinctive shapes and hues in his compositions.
In September 1878 Monet and his young family moved to the Normandy village of Vétheuil, 90 kilometres north-west of Paris on the Seine.
Monet rented a house there and painted the village, with its imposing 13th-century Romanesque church, and the surrounding countryside. (In the Street View above you can find the exact spot where Monet painted the church).
View of Vétheuil (1880)Los Angeles County Museum of Art
He captured the area in different seasons from spring sunshine to winter snow, painting largely outdoors, paying close attention to the specific effects of light and weather.
During the 1880s Monet continued to travel within France. In 1882 he spent two long periods on the Normandy coast to the west of Dieppe.
At Varengeville he repeatedly painted the little 16th-century church of Saint-Valéry and a small cottage looking out to sea. The red brick of the cottage balances the green of the surrounding foliage. These coastal buildings are not only picturesque, but their exposure to the elements adds a psychological element to Monet’s paintings.
Seeking the challenge of brighter light, Monet visited the French and Italian Riviera, taking advantage of the growing European rail network to travel to the Mediterranean.
Working on the coast in 1884, Monet was drawn to picturesque vistas just across the border in Italy, such as the dramatic 15th-century bridge at Dolceacqua (pictured).
The Water-Lily Pond (1899) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London
In the 1890s Monet planned and constructed the now famous
flower and water gardens, at his home in Giverny.
A keen horticulturist, he intended the space 'for the pleasure of the eyes and also for the purpose of having subjects to paint'. By diverting the flow of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine, to run through his property Monet transformed a swampy area on the other side of the railway tracks into a water garden with a pond over which he built a Japanese-style bridge. His garden at Giverny became the focus of his art until his death in 1926.