• Claude Monet, La Grenouillère, 1869. Oil on canvas,.
  • Claude Monet, Houses by the Zaan at Zaandam, 1871. Oil on canvas,

Monet: The Early Years

The artist's work from age 18-32.

Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco
Through May 29, 2017

“Monet: The Early Years” is visually gorgeous and academically significant. Presenting Monet’s work from the early phase of his career (1858-1872) starting when Monet was 18 years old and ending when he turned 32, the show traces the development of Monet’s eye-catching artistic language and his renowned painterly techniques filled with light and color.

The Kimball Art Museum, Fort. Worth, in collaboration with the Legion of Honor, has gathered Monet’s youthful masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Art Institute, Chicago and other public and private collections around the world for this unique and beautiful exhibition of Monet’s early efforts. Although the paintings in the show pre-date his 1874 coining of the term “Impressionism,” which stemmed from his work, “soleil levant “(“Impression, Sunrise”), the exhibit’s images, painted with brisk brushstrokes and nuances of color, demonstrate the advancement of Monet’s impressionist style.

“Monet: The Early Years,” which contains more than 50 works placed generally in chronological order, also explores, through the art as well as the accompanying text and labels, the particulars of Monet’s young life. His youth in Le Havre is epitomized by his tightly controlled landscape, “View from Rouelles” (1858), the first piece Monet displayed in public when he was just 18 years old. He had learned from a mentor, Eugène Boudin, the “en plein air” painting techniques that remained one of the hallmarks of his artistic style.

The gloomy yet grand seascape of a Normandy beach, “The Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide” (1865), was the first of Monet’s works to be accepted for exhibition at the conservative Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Paris. At only 24 years old, Monet achieved this surprising and remarkable success.

In an effort to create an impressive large-scale painting for an upcoming 1866 Salon show, Monet began “Luncheon on the Grass” (1865–1866), after a work of the same title by Édouard Manet that was decried by the critics. Monet’s opus includes likenesses of his friends such as Gustave Courbet and Frédéric Bazille, and his model and future wife, Camille Doncieux, picnicking in the woods. Unfortunately, Monet failed to finish the gigantic piece on time. The indigent artist gave it to his landlord as collateral for back rent, but when Monet retrieved the painting, the canvas was moldy and had to be cut into several huge pieces, two of which still survive and highlight the anteroom of the exhibition.

Several paintings of the painter’s wife Camille and his son, Jean, populate the exhibition. “The Red Kerchief” (1869) is a haunting and poignant image of Camille, while “Jean Monet Sleeping” (1868) shows a cherubic child, apparently adored by his father. At this time, Monet also completed several exquisite seascapes, including, “La Grenouillère” (1869), which he painted while spending the late summer with his friend, Pierre Renoir.

Escape from the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) led Monet to London and then to Amsterdam and its environs, where his efforts included the peaceful and muted “Houses by the Zaan at Zaandam” (1871). In late 1871, he returned to France and settled in Argenteuil, a village on the right bank of the Seine, near Paris, the site of many of his most famous paintings, including “Regatta at Argenteuil” (1872). The beginning of his Argenteuil period signaled a new maturity in his career and a new recognition of his talent by art dealers and his fellow painters; it is therefore a fitting year for the close of “Monet: The Early Years.”

This fabulous exhibition, a feast for the eyes and the mind, will rightly attract large audiences. So don’t wait too long to see it. It will be followed in several years at the Kimball Art Museum and the Legion of Honor by a show of Monet’s late works, painted from age 72 on. I can’t wait.

By Emily S. Mendel


© Emily S. Mendel 2017 All Rights Reserved

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.