Monet at Etretat
During the 1880s, Monet rediscovered the Normandy coast and made repeated visits there to draw by the sea. Etretat had already been painted by both Delacroix and Courbet; Monet in fact owned a Delacroix watercolour of the area. The Courbet retrospective at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1882 featured a group of Etretat seascapes. Monet visited Etretat in 1883 with plans to create his own Normandy seascapes: ‘I reckon on doing a big canvas on the cliff of Etretat, although it’s terribly audacious of me to do that after Courbet who did it so well, but I’ll try to do it differently.’ The region had become a fashionable holiday destination for Parisians, which may have encouraged Monet to create paintings for a growing market.
In the 1890s, Monet began producing his series paintings: multiple images of the same subject done at different times of day and captured in different kinds of light. In the 1880s, Monet painted and drew the coast north of Le Havre at Etretat repeatedly, and the body of work he produced shows that he was already thinking in terms of repeated representations of the same subject. Two of the three pieces shown here are in pastel, a medium that enabled Monet to note down ideas for composition and colour with speed.
Claude Monet, Étretat, the Cap d'Antifer, c. 1885. Pastel, 270 x 346 mm.
Etretat, le cap d’Antifer is a pastel done from an almost aerial view, looking down on the cliffs with the sea below. Monet has dissected the plane of the paper with the sharp vertical face of the cliffs. The centre of an image is an unusual place for it to be divided; this drawing has two distinct halves, one green (land) and one blue (sea). Note the way the edge of the cliffs seems almost carved into the drawing with a darker green line. This line is mirrored by a path along the cliff edge, which is picked out in lighter tones of sand and white. The farthest outcropping of cliff is balanced by a darker area of sea in the bottom third of the
Claude Monet, Étretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval, c. 1885. Pastel on tan paper, 400 x 235 mm. Private collection. Photo courtesy Lefevre Gallery, London.
In the rather moody yet serene Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d’Aval, Monet has again dissected the paper, both horizontally with the foreground and horizon line, and vertically with the nearest cliff and the needle rock. Despite the drawing’s smoothness, the effect of light and colour in the sky reflects the Impressionists’ painted treatment of light, achieved with visible brushstrokes of different colours. A pure dash of lilac above the horizon – possibly a remnant of the already set sun – is echoed in the clouds and on the surface of the water. The formations of rock in the foreground are outlined quite clearly.
The oil painting Etretat, The Cliff and The Porte d’Aval depicts the same stretch of coastline as the previous two drawings but at a different time of day. The light source is in the upper left corner of the painting, and it diffuses a rosy-yellow glow onto the sunny areas of the image. The cliff face and shadow on the water have cool violet tones that accentuate the carved-out edge of the cliff, seen in the drawings. The waves are painted in short, horizontal brushstrokes, like those in the rock strata of the cliffs and the surface of the ground at the top of the cliffs. Monet has again juxtaposed horizontal with vertical, in this case using the brushstrokes to create a sense of wide horizontality and the composition to emphasise the cliffs’ solid, immoveable verticality.
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This text is abridged from the Royal Academy Education Department
Introduction To The Unknown Monet (816 KB)