This Day’s Notable Aesthetic
This might be called a storied painting, one whose history and narrative have endured as long as the work of art itself. This last hour, I have been working on a post, a rather detailed and complicated affair yet to come, involving one of the great impressionistic artists of the nineteenth century — Claude Monet.
I was taken with this simple painting that conveyed a colorless, uneventful scene of such stark isolation and foreboding, like a photograph capturing, what will prove to be, the final fleeting moment of something that will forever change. Before I took time to research the back story, I studied the huddled figure of this lone woman, standing with uncertainty in the snow, peering through the paned glass window, not with curiosity or anticipation, but with a kind of yearning, as though she were an interloper, a trespasser, caught in the unforgiving glare of a lens. Her gaze, filled with an indescribable meaning, appears to be directed to someone inside.
My interest was further piqued with the discovery that the subject was the beautiful bourgeoise Camille Doncieux, the artist’s enigmatic wife, made famous in The Woman in a Green Dress who some five years earlier had left her family and fiancé for the struggling painter.
The painting is entitled The Red Kerchief: Portrait of Camille Monet, dated 1870.
The first impression is of the indistinct sense of color from an artist who boldly and deliberately embraced it. Strange to note that it is, uncharacteristically, muted with only that one spot of color, the red kerchief screaming out, calling one’s attention to the figure outside.
Notable, too, is the labeling of the work, conferred by the artist, specifically identifying his wife in the title, not with the familiarity one might accord one’s spouse (Camille), but choosing instead to include the more formal, proper surname, Monet.
The doorway or window is an oft used painting motif, however, it is normally opened to allow a more sweeping panoramic view. The depiction here is of a cowering creature, not only locked out, but cold and shivering, grasping her coat tightly around her to ward off the snowy chill.
According to historians, the perspective of the window composition is surprisingly shallow. The horizon line, at Camille’s elbow, flattens the picture, resulting in the impression that she is being pushed up against the glass, as though beseeching the viewer to permit her entry. Widely regarded as something of a disturbing canvas, it would prove a harbinger of the future to come in the relationship between Monet and his wife, model and muse, Camille.
By late 1876, Monet had fallen in love with Alice Hoschede, the wife of one of his dealers, who bore his son Jean-Pierre two years prior to Camille’s death.
Excerpt: Monet’s first encounter with Camille as seen through the artist’s eyes:
“… sitting on his box near the ticket windows in the great Gare Saint-Lazare… he had sketched the tobacco and new-journal kiosk. When he looked up to catch the shadows of the stacked news journals, three women stood there, one older and the other two likely her daughters, both still in their adolescence. The younger yet taller girl was weeping beneath her blue hat veil… (S)he gazed about, her lovely, long desperate face wistful as if she hoped someone would rescue her. He turned the page and surreptitiously sketched her.”
Painting: The Red Kerchief: Portrait of Camille Monet
Oil on canvas, 99 x 79.3 cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art