Monday at the Met with Lina

My dear friend Lina came to visit NYC a few weeks ago from Finland, and I was beyond privileged to take her on a tour of the Met. It was an additional treat to show her a Monet in real life and the Met’s collection, particularly in Gallery 819, has a wonderful snapshot of his mid- to late-career.

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A very excited Lina seeing a Monet for the first time! Claude Monet, Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 36 1/8 in. (65.4 x 91.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

We encountered Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines in Gallery 800, the long hallway between the Greek and Roman Art galleries and the Modern and Contemporary galleries. This gallery is filled with sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and includes paintings that respond to new perceptions and interpretations of the body and nature. During a stay with the poet Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903) in the spring of 1889, Monet painted Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines. 

Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 36 1/8 in. (65.4 x 91.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 36 1/8 in. (65.4 x 91.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Monet positioned himself on the bank of the ravine overlooking the Petite Creuse to omit any view of the sky or any other indication of depth, giving him a unique vantage point. By doing so, he was able to create a limited, yet dynamic space–one focused on the ebb and flow of the river as it rushed past him. As Lina and I observed, the choice to do so added a sort of auditory element to the overall painting– the jagged white foam that dances across the canvas combined with the diverse color palette remind the viewer of the rustle of a flowing river. Monet would go on to paint many versions of the Creuse River and included it among his submissions in a joint exhibition with Auguste Rodin (whose work can be seen in tandem with this painting) in the summer of 1889 at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris.*

Monet would go on to paint many versions of the Creuse River and included it among his submissions in a joint exhibition with Auguste Rodin (whose work can be seen in tandem with this painting) in the summer of 1889 at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris.*

The Manneporte (Étretat),1883. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 in. (65.4 x 81.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
The Manneporte (Étretat),1883. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 in. (65.4 x 81.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Manneporte near Étretat, 1886. Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
The Manneporte near Étretat, 1886. Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Gallery 819 offers a great snapshot of Monet’s continued interest in “series,” objectively depicting subjects in different light and weather. “The Manneporte near Étretat,” painted in 1883 and 1886, eventually became a series of six overall paintings.

This pair of paintings might go overlooked in a gallery with such recognizable works like the Rouen Cathedral and the waterlilies series, yet Monet’s ability to capture the monumentality, yet ever-changing façade of this unusual rock formation can’t help but draw you to it.

The Manneporte (Étretat),1883. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 in. (65.4 x 81.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
The Manneporte (Étretat),1883. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 in. (65.4 x 81.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The 1883 version of this painting is a horizontal composition with a cropped view that allows for the rock formation to fill up almost the entire canvas. Similar techniques seen later in Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines are used to create the overall atmosphere surrounding this extraordinary natural wonder. The layering of blues and greens in short brushstrokes topped off with dabs of white vividly represents the violent sea beating against the massive cliff. The color palette of icy blues, whites, greens, and hints of brown reflect the February weather in Normandy.

What struck us as we looked at this painting was that we were stand-ins for the two tiny figures standing on the mossy outstretch of rocks underneath the arch, thoroughly overwhelmed by the sheer power of nature spread out before our eyes.

The Manneporte near Étretat, 1886. Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
The Manneporte near Étretat, 1886. Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The 1886 version of this painting, while of the same view of the Manneporte, is shown vertically and less daunting than its 1883 predecessor. The color palette is much warmer, perhaps an indication of a change in season and the use of even shorter, quicker brushstrokes implies a much calmer sea.

Monet’s focus this time seemed to be centered around the effect of the weather and light on the cliff, more so than depicting its scale. As compared to the 1883 version, the Manneporte we see here is more static than the hulking rock transformed by sunlight, rising out of an angry sea.

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Ending the day with some decadent cakes from Cafe Sabarsky. 

Many thanks to Lina for sparking new conversations and offering a new perspective on these examples of Monet’s mid- to late-career painting series.

Further Reading:

Exploring Late Monet with Art Historian Kathryn Calley Galitz, Collection Insights, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 7, 2018.

Sources:

* Catalogue Entry, Claude Monet, Rapids on the Petite Creuse at Fresselines

 

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