Monet's Venice

The National Gallery, London

Monet in Venice

Monet visited Venice in 1908, relatively late in his career. He travelled there with his second wife, Alice, in early October and remained in the city for 10 weeks. Having been invited by Mrs Mary Hunter, a society hostess and patron of the arts whom Monet had met in London, the Monets stayed with her at the Gothic Palazzo Barbaro for two weeks before moving along the Grand Canal to a hotel.

Palazzo da Mula, Venice (1908) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Iconic architecture

It was a week before Monet began to paint Venice, but he soon got into a rhythm, producing a total of 37 canvases of the city’s architectural landmarks. He painted the iconic Gothic façade of the Doge’s Palace, the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute and neo-classical San Giorgio Maggiore. 

He also painted the façades of the private homes along the Grand Canal: Palazzo Dario, Palazzo Contarini, and Palazzo da Mula (pictured).

As with his painting series of Rouen Cathedral and London, Monet painted subjects repeatedly, producing, for example, six canvases of Santa Maria della Salute.

Palazzo da Mula, Venice, Claude Monet, 1908, From the collection of: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
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Views of Venice

Monet took up a regular routine, beginning his day painting from St Mark’s Square, and ending it with his easel set up on the balcony of his suite in the Grand Hotel Britannia. Although Monet, now 68 years old, appreciated the comfort of painting from his hotel room, he continued to paint outdoors. He even painted some views from a gondola.

Panorama La Salute - Venice. (about 1855) by Antonio PeriniThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Given Venice's increasing popularity as a tourist destination at the time, it is a surprise to find Monet’s paintings of the city devoid of people. As a result, the paintings have an other-worldly feel.

Palazzo da Mula, Venice (1908) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

This dreamlike quality is increased by the play of light on the buildings’ architectural features and their reflection in Venice’s canals and lagoon.

Unsurprisingly, for an artist who had been painting water his whole career, the city’s canals dominate the bottom half of each canvas.

When he was younger, Monet had said that he would never go to Venice, one of the most painted cities in the world, but after a few weeks he was already planning another trip to return. He felt in this relatively short stay he could not work seriously, and considered his 1908 paintings as a way to hold on to his memory of the city.

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The trip to Venice was to be Monet’s last outside France. After finishing and exhibiting the pictures in 1912, Monet – now a widower and struggling with both grand projects and failing eyesight – concentrated on painting his beloved water garden at his home in Giverny, Normandy where he remained until his death in 1926.

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