Claude Monet painted landscapes with special attention to light’s ephemeral quality—a principle characteristic of the French Impressionistic movement that he helped found and lead. Beginning in 1896, Monet began to study the River Seine near his Giverny home, awakening each morning at 3:30 to reach the site by dawn. Here, Monet captured the delicate interaction of fog and light as the sun rose over the river. The background landscape seems to melt into the water’s reflection and blend with the horizon, suggesting an almost mystical atmosphere. As the artist described his aims, “It’s the enchantment of it this magical landscape that I’m so keen to render.”
Morning on the Seine belongs to a series of eighteen canvases in which the artist explored the soft tonal harmonies that would later inform his celebrated decorative cycle of paintings of water lilies.
Written by Taylor Friedlander, Class of 2009
In the 1890s, Monet began to create series of paintings: The Grainstacks, Poplars on the Epte, Rouen Cathedral, Views on the Thames, and others. Previously, the artist had painted on several related canvases in succession in a single day; now, he made exacting studies of the light and atmospheric effects of a given location at specific times. The Mead’s painting belongs to one such series, Mornings on the Seine, painted in 1896 and 1897. The artist included eighteen of the group’s more than twenty canvases in his important independent exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, in 1898.
Monet painted the series from a calm inlet looking upriver on the Seine. Overhanging trees, from the Giverny bank on the left and an island on the right, frame the view and bisect the almost-square composition vertically near its center; the horizontal intersection of sky and water enforce the symmetry. To capture the crepuscular view, Monet awoke hours before dawn in order to reach the flat-bottomed boat that served as his floating studio by the first light. He reportedly numbered the stretchers of the canvases in the series to ensure a continuous sequence of views at precise times of day, in which he rendered the growing sunlight using increasingly saturated colors. After capturing the essential effects outdoors, he completed the paintings in his studio.
The reduced impasto and subtle tonalities yield a translucent, almost abstract surface. The experience of this series would inform the Water-Lilies, which Monet began to paint in the late 1890s, and, as Paloma Alarcó has recently shown, would inspire countless abstract artists of the twentieth century.