The Beach at Trouville (1870) by Claude
The Beach at Trouville (1870)
French Impressionism was primarily concerned with the capture on canvas of 'moments' or 'impressions' of sunlight and colour, which required a mastery of plein air painting or sketching in oils. Its leading exponent was Claude Monet, while other important 'outdoor' Impressionist painters included Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and Renoir (1841-1919). One of Monet's lesser-known but nevertheless intensely interesting Impressionist paintings was The Beach at Trouville. A masterpiece of modern art, it exemplifies Impressionism's focus on ordinary everyday scenes, devoid of any great import. (Note: See: Characteristics of Impressionism: 1870-1920.)
Monet painted The Beach at Trouville in the summer of 1870, while he and his first wife, Camille Doncieux (his mistress since 1865), were on honeymoon in the town, which was a popular resort on the Normandy coast. The painting features Camille (left) and Madame Boudin, wife of his mentor Eugene Boudin (1824-98), at the beach, their parasols casting their faces in dark shadows. The painting marks a transition from Monet's early figure painting to his mature, landscape subjects, and demonstrates his mastery of outdoor painting - an ability which makes him one of the best artists of all time.
The ultimate en-plein-air sketch (embedded in the paint are specks of sand that blew onto the canvas), Monet executed The Beach at Trouville rapidly, and on a small scale, revealing only the scene's main shapes and colour notes.
But in this breezy moment at the seaside is the essence of Impressionism - a brief moment of sunlight and colour, captured on canvas. Neither figure is paid much attention, their faces are merely noted. Camille, her face shaded by her parasol, looks into the middle distance, seemingly bored - her eye merely a brown triangle in a flesh-coloured face. Madame Boudin, meanwhile, is more 'correct'. She is dressed in black, with a black umbrella, and all her attention is focused on her book or embroidery. Her tight white collar and general pose suggest self-imposed restraint. In contrast, Camille is dressed in a loose white outfit, and holds aloft a white parasol. She outshines her companion, as well as the uncertain, windy weather. Surely a moment of happiness for her new husband.
Monet derived the abrupt brushwork and relatively traditional 19th century colour palette of this early painting from the work of such realist painters as Gustave Courbet (1819-77), the artists of the Barbizon School, and the plein-air techniques of Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-91). Monet later abandoned the use of dark and bright contrasts, instead creating a sense of depth and volume through colour relationships alone. He enhanced his bright palette by painting on canvases that had first been primed with either white or light beige tones.
Monet's rapid painting of this seaside picture is in total contrast to Beach Scene (1876-77, National Gallery, London) by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), which is a completely formal composition, most of which was probably put together in the studio. Exhibited at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877 - see Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris, for details - the Degas work demonstrates the broadness of the Impressionist movement. (Note: for more, please see: Impressionist Landscape Painting: 1870-1900.)
in the Garden (1866-7) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan, Paris.
Saint-Lazare (1877) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Lilies (Nymphéas) (1897-1926) Various art museums.
Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899) Musee d'Orsay.
For the meaning of other Impressionist plein-air paintings, see: Homepage.
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