I have been living in Paris for over two years now and I still get excited to think that I can stroll to the Musée Marmottan Monet within ten minutes and see the painting which gave it’s name to Impressionism. This painting is of course Claude Monet’s ‘Impression, soleil levant’ (Impression, Sunrise), a beautiful painting executed by Monet in 1872. The subject is the port of Le Harve where Monet had moved when he was a child. It is dawn and the scene is hazy except for the ball of red-orange sun which has started to rise over the port and whose rays are reflected in the motionless water. The viewer is drawn to this red-orange sun ball which stands out against the greyer hues of the rest of the painting. The viewer is further drawn to the small row boats in the foreground the most prominent of which seems to have two figures on board. The rest of the scene which is of the industrialised port seems to fade into the background. The whole effect of the painting is both calm and eerie and despite the industrial setting of the painting, there is still a sort of beauty about it.
Claude Monet (1840-1926) was part of a group of artists who turned their backs on academic painting which they found restrictive and who instead preferred to paint ordinary everyday subjects often ‘en plein air’ i.e. outdoors. Academic art was more concerned with historical and religious subjects painted in clear lines and contours giving a realistic and fine finish. This was in stark contrast to this new group of artists whose paintings captured the moment, ignoring linear perspective to portray an impression of the subject. These artists lightened their palettes again in strong contrast to academic art which preferred sombre tones. The academic establishment did not approve of this new style of painting considering the works incomplete and mere sketches. As this esatablishment controlled the Salons (the only way an artist could have his worked viewed), their works were usually rejected by them. Eventually, in 1873 the artists formed a group calling itself The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers and began exhibiting their own paintings in opposition to the official Salons. Monet’s painting, Impression, soleil levant was shown at the group’s first exhibition held in 1874 where it was ridiculed by the critics. In this vein the critic, Louis Leroy referred to the painting mockingly as ‘Impressionism’ and the name stuck. Little did Leroy realise that he had coined the name for one of the most famous art movements ever!
And then, I discovered by chance whilst strolling through the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de La Ville de Paris, Monet’s ‘Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect) . I had never heard of this painting but I found it amazing that on my doorstep there was one museum exhibiting Monet’s famous Sunrise and a different museum showing one of his Sunsets. This particular sunset was painted by Monet in 1880 in Vétheuil where he had been living with his family since 1878. The winter of 1879/1880 was one of the harshest in history with the Seine freezing over. Monet painted over 20 canvases of the changing scenes caused by this weather spell. One of these was Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect. Lavacourt was a village situated on the opposite side of the Seine to Vétheuil and in winter the sun set behind it. The setting sun on a winters day and all its effect is the subject matter of the painting.The painting has a similar red-orange sun as Impression, soleil levant but the painting is less hazy and eerie in its overall effect. This painting didn’t produce the name for an art movement like Impression,soleil levant did, but it is also a beautiful painting and it is well worth complementing a visit to the Musée Marmottan Monet with a visit to the Petit Palais to view these two paintings on the one day!
Entry to the Musée Marmottan Monet is €11 for an adult so it might be a bit extravagant to visit just to view one painting. So you can take your time at the Musée Marmottan Monet as it is a very interesting museum. It was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 19th century and ultimately purchased by Jules Marmottan who left it to his son Paul, an avid art collector. On his death Paul Marmottan left the mansion to the Académie des Beaux-Arts who opened it up as a museum. The museum was further enhanced in 1966 when Monet’s son Michel donated his own collection of his fathers works to the museum resulting in the museum owning the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world including some amazing lilies which can still be viewed here today. The museum collection also includes a large body of work by Berthe Morisot the female french impressionist.
There is no coffee shop at the museum so when you are finished your visit and you want to see both Monet’s Sunrise and Sunset on the same day, head straight to the Petit Palais where there is a lovely café in the heart of the museum which opens onto a tranquil courtyard and garden complete with colonnades. Entry to the Petit Palais is free so after coffee or lunch, you can simply seek out Monet’s Soleil Couchant (Sunset) and complete the tour!