Rouen Cathedral Paintings (1892-4) by Claude Monet
Interpretation of Impressionist Urban Landscapes

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Rouen Cathedral,
Bright Sunshine (1892-4)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
By Claude Monet.
Regarded as one of the
great modern paintings of
the nineteenth century.

Rouen Cathedral Paintings (1892-4)


Analysis of the Rouen Cathedral Paintings
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscape Paintings


Name: Rouen Cathedral Paintings (1892-4)
Artist: Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Urban landscape
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Various art museums around the world:

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


The series of thirty Impressionist paintings featuring Rouen Cathedral, was painted by Claude Monet between 1892 and 1894, and merely added to his status as one of the best landscape artists of his day. Each work captures the facade of the Cathedral at different times of the day and year, thus reflecting the changes in its appearance under different conditions of light and colour. It was the third such series he had painted, the earlier ones being: Poplars (1890), a three-part series of poplar trees; and Haystacks (1890-1), a 25-canvas series of wheatstacks. Later, during the last decades of his life, he would complete the finest sequence of Impressionist landscape painting - his much loved series of Water Lilies (Nymphéas), in his pond at Giverny.

The pictures of Rouen Cathedral were created in 1892 and 1893, then completed in Monet’s studio in 1894. The series found a ready market. The 1890s revival of interest in Catholicism, as well as the representation of one of France's best Gothic Cathedrals - the groundbreaking 'Gothic style' was and is a highpoint of French culture - ensured that the project was well received.

For a long time Monet had been intrigued with how the character and shape of an object changed, according to the light, at different times of the day and the year. His series of Poplars, Haystacks, Waterlilies and Rouen Cathedral, each of which featured repetitive views of the same subject under different lighting conditions, was his attempt to illustrate the contribution of light to our optical perception of an object at a given time and place. For more background, see: Characteristics of Impressionism (1870-1930).

NOTE: For a full explanation of French Impressionism and the group of artists who began it, see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of the Rouen Cathedral Paintings by Claude Monet

Light was all that interested Monet. In order to pin down this phenomenon he painted all the variations possible on a single subject. After having, in 1890, observed the haystacks in a field in Giverny in all weathers, then, on the banks of the Epte, painted the poplars at different times of the day, he took for his subject a cathedral under the same conditions. In February 1892 he went to live at Rouen above a shop called Au Caprice, at 81 Rue du Grand-Pont, where the owner, Monsieur Mauquit, rented him a room. He stayed there many months, and from the ever-open window on the first floor he contemplated the main facade of the cathedral. He reproduced its various aspects in several pictures simultaneously, going from one to the other according to the time of day and the weather.



His painting technique was still changing; his paint became a sort of stippled cement as if to imitate the grain of the old stones. "Rouen Cathedral, Bright Sunshine" (1894) (see top-left) was painted in full sunshine. Others were done in a grey dawn, or at twilight, in the fires of sunset, or again all veiled in mist. Clemenceau classified this series of cathedrals in four groups, the greys, the whites, the blues, and the rainbow hued. The following year, 1893, Monet returned to Rouen and continued his variations on this theme, then during the following months he went to Giverny where he put the finishing touches to his work from memory.

His letters testify to the trouble he took. "I work as hard as I can but what I have undertaken is enormously difficult". "My stay here is drawing near its close. This does not mean that I am ready to finish my cathedrals. Alas, the more I go on the more difficult I find it to put down what I feel. It is forced labour, searching, testing, not achieving very much." Still anxious to perfect his series, he only finished it two years later, in the spring of 1894, continually postponing the exhibition he had arranged at the well-known gallery of the Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). Finally in March 1895, he allowed the gallery to exhibit the 20 best paintings from the series, of which eight were sold before the show was over. The exhibition was highly praised by the critics as well as other Impressionist painters, including Pissarro (1830-1903) and Cezanne (1839-1906).

Using a cathedral as his subject allowed Monet to illustrate the paradox between a relatively solid, permanent stone structure and the evanescent light which controls our perception of it. In these compositions, he used thick impastoed layers of paint, expressive of the nature of the subject. This texture and Monet's subtle interplay of colours helped to fashion a series of shimmering images that are entirely worthy of their monumental subject.

NOTE: For more Impressionist urban landscapes, see: Canal St Martin (1870) by Alfred Sisley; Road-Menders, Rue de Berne (1878) by Edouard Manet; Boulevard Montmartre (1897-8) by Pissarro.

Examples from the Series

"Rouen Cathedral, Grey Weather" (1892-4)
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.

"Rouen Cathedral, Morning Sunshine" (1892-4)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

"Rouen Cathedral, Bright Sunshine" (1892-4)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

"Rouen Cathedral, the West Portal, Dull Weather" (1892-4)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

"Rouen Cathedral, Sunset" (1892-4)
Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

"Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight" (1892-4)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

"Rouen Cathedral, (Morning effect)" (1892-4)
Folkwang Museum, Essen.

"Rouen Cathedral, red, Sunlight" (1892-4)
National Museum of Serbia, Belgrade.

"Rouen Cathedral, Setting Sun" (1892-4)
National Museum Cardiff, Wales.

"Rouen Cathedral, dull day" (1892-4)
Beyeler Museum, Riehen, Switzerland.

"Rouen Cathedral, The Facade in Sunlight" (1892-4)
Clark Art Institute, Williamstown.

"Rouen Cathedral, Morning Light" (1892-4)
J. Paul Getty Museum.

Explanation of Other Paintings by Monet

Women in the Garden (1866-7) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Monet's first significant success.

La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Typical outdoor canvas by Monet.

The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, CT.
Rapid oil sketch showing complete mastery of plein-air work.

Impression, Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan-Monet, Paris.
The painting that christened the greatest art movement.

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d'Orsay.
Quintessential Impressionist masterpiece of plein-air painting.

Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Part of a series of the Paris train station by Monet.

Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899) Musee d'Orsay.
One of 18 views of the wooden Japanese footbridge over the pond at Giverny.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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