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Monet's seascapes

He painted trees, fields, haystacks, cathedrals, streets, the noise of cars, the flowers in his garden. What we know less about Claude Monet is that he was a first-class seascapes painter, one of the few who knew how to paint water, its reflections, its surface, its depth, its colors matching the sky. .

"Hauling a Boat" in Honfleur is one of Claude Monet's first seascapes. Dated 1864 (the painter was 24 years old), this painting represents a sleeping sea at sunset, on which three fishermen pull their boat under the iridescence of a sky which one does not know if it is calm or threatening.

Camille Pissarro Bazincourt, effet de neige. Coucher du soleil, 1892, Huile sur toile, 32 x 41 cm, Hasso Platner Collection / Sammlung Hasso Plattner
Claude Monet. Halage d'une barque. Honfleur. 1864. Memorial Art Gallery University of Rochester

The wavelets that come to die on the beach prolong a sea of oil on which the lighthouse, already lit, is reflected and which draws the gaze towards the horizon.

In the Événement Illustré of May 24, 1868, Émile Zola wrote: "In Claude Monet, water is alive, deep, above all true... he paints it without silly transparency, without lying reflections. It is not the artificial, crystalline and pure water of seascape painters in their bedroom, it is the still water of the ports spread out in oily patches, it is the great livid water of the enormous ocean."

In the advancing darkness, the fishermen are barely suggested, they disappear behind their heavy gestures, imbued with the fatality of seafarers who pull their boat endlessly, day after day.

The mixture of horizontal clouds, the verticality of the lighthouse, oblique waves and characters creates a relief, a subdued depth that gives the view of this painting an incredible feeling of serenity.

Georgette Agutte. Bord de Seine à l'Automne. Vers 1890. Musée de Grenoble.
Peder Krøyer. Trois pêcheurs hâlant un bateau. Huile sur toile. 1885. Alkersum/Föhr Museum. Kunst der Westküste

What a contrast with the fishermen of the Danish painter Peder Krøyer, who pull their boat on a sun-drenched beach! This canvas, painted twenty years after Monet's, pays the same homage to the sea and only uses the sky to mark the horizon line. Same pain, same strength, same weariness, perhaps, in these timeless gestures which put the rope on the shoulder for one and pull it with the strength of their arms for the others...

Vincent Van Gogh. Bateaux de pêche aux Saintes Maries. 1888
Claude Monet . Coucher de soleil. 1862. Musée des beaux arts. Boston.

We find almost the same tears in the sky in this pastel by Claude Monet painted two years before the "Halage". Was he inspired by it?


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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