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Group: Modern Life Modern Vision
Artist: Claude MONET
Title: Garden at Sainte-Adresse
Date Made: 1867
Lender: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Credit Line: Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1967
Monet painted the Garden at Sainte-Adresse when he was 26. This was a time when he and his friends in Paris were trying to find new ways to see and depict modern life.
The garden in the painting belonged to Monet’s aunt, whose seaside villa was near the great port of Le Havre. One can imagine that the seated figures - probably Monet’s father and aunt - are watching the steam ships bringing goods to their home town. Monet is painting not only modern commerce, but the familiar pleasures of modern middle-class life.
Using pure colours that contrast strongly, the artist captures the almost painful brightness of sunlight reflecting off the sea, flowers and gravel paths. We take these brilliant colours for granted, but Monet’s contemporaries were shocked by their almost crude brightness.
The Garden at Sainte-Adresse is constructed from patches of densely material colour which instantly read as dazzling light. One has only to glance at the fluttering flags, the tall spike of red flowers bursting from the shadows to the left, or the solid curves of yellow and green that register light and shade in the distant parasol to be totally engaged in the immediate moment, as if it were just the moment when the painter chose that colour.
Monet’s slightly stained and battered copy of Hokusai’s Turban-shell Hall of the Five Hundred Rakan Temple evidently influenced the composition of Garden at Sainte-Adresse. The print shows a group of figures on the deck of the pavilion, which is sharply juxtaposed against a marshy plain far below. Monet jams his private garden against a flat plane of blue sea. His standing couple have the same spatial relationship to the ship on the horizon as the male and female figures in the centre of the print have to Mount Fuji in the distance. Hokusai’s figures contemplate the perfect geometry of the sacred mountain; Monet’s father and aunt, sitting in the garden, enjoy the spectacle of the ships — which brought wealth to France, to their class, and to themselves. These ships were also importing Japanese prints in ever increasing numbers.
There is ample evidence that Monet studied the prints of other nineteenth-century Japanese artists. For example, Autumn moon at Fukagawa by Kunisada II has a similar relationship between a high deck and a plane of water scattered with boats. Yoshitora’s Five different nationalities eating and drinking suggests another source for Monet’s construction of a painting from juxtaposed cells of space rather than unitary perspective space. Yoshitora too combines the mercantile and the personal, a wide variety of European ships coming into harbour and a variety of social encounters. The elaborate but fragmentary perspective opens onto a deck where one finds figures like those in Monet’s painting — a couple interested in each other rather than the view, as well as a top-hatted gentleman. The flattened shapes of the Japanese women in crinolines may also have provided Monet with a way of representing his woman as a pure shape composed of long brushstrokes of contrasting tones.
Small strokes of bright pigments against large areas of flat colour — from dark green to yellowy-greens, bright red, oranges and yellows, smudgy blues and a scattering of white — suggest the brilliant colour contrasts of flowers and foliage in the almost painful glare of the summer sun. The pulse of colour against colour fractures the spatial continuum of traditional plein-airism, as do the fences and flagpoles. Like Yoshitora, Kunisada II and Hokusai, Monet has created a sense of space by making the eye move actively from one tilted horizontal plane to the next. The rigid geometry derives from the linear grids of Japanese prints (seen clearly in the fence, flagpole, boats and riverbank in Hiroshige’s Komagata Hall and Azuma Bridge. Monet used the grid to control more immediate sense impressions than those of traditional plein-airism, where perspective distances the landscape. Once he had developed this alternative to plein-airist tonal composition, structures combining linear scaffolding, mobile viewpoints and dynamic coloured marks were to be characteristic of his painting practice until the late 1870s.
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