“The subject is something secondary, what I want to reproduce is what lies between the subject and myself” writes in one of his letters Claude Monet and the painting of the Rouen Cathedral in the Morning, a great masterpiece in the Collection of the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens, helps me explore this idea.
It was 1892, Monet was in Rouen and the city’s Gothic Cathedral, lofty and imposing, captivated, challenged, and stymied him. How can I capture the “invisible” that connects us and constantly “transforms” this amazing building, he probably thought. Can I “trap” that elusive “light and atmosphere” that “hang” between us… design and create something substantial out of the intangible? Difficult questions to answer and most of all realize. Yet, Claude Monet was a persistent and resilient man. It took him 3 years, countless hours of painting, and over 30 canvases to create the Rouen Cathedral Series, an accomplishment to be proud of.
The artist’s idea was to create yet another series of paintings/studies of how the depicted subject matter, the façade of the Rouen Cathedral, changes under different conditions of light and weather. Monet was familiar with the idea… the famous paintings of the Haystacks in the outskirts of Giverny were created between 1890 and 1891, causing a sensation.
In Rouen, during the early months of 1892, Monet rented a studio space facing the West Façade of the Cathedral, set up multiple canvases, and working long hours, began painting many canvases at the same time, eager to capture the atmosphere corresponding to a particular moment in time. He worked as a dancer swiftly moving from one canvas to the other… but the process was slow and frustrating. Things don’t advance very steadily, primarily because each day I discover something I hadn’t seen the day before… In the end, I am trying to do the impossible… he wrote and by April 1982 he was back at Giverny. https://www.theartwolf.com/monet_cathedral.htm
In 1893 he returned at Rouen struggling, once more, to capture… the moment, the ephemeral, tonal subtleties and nuances of colour. I am furious at myself… he wrote to his wife Alice, I am doing nothing of value: I don’t know how many sessions I have spent on these paintings and do what I may, they don’t advance…it’s depressing. Yet, working and reworking on his canvases, at Rouen but in his Studio at Giverny as well (1894) and creating a very distinctive textured surface, Monet was finally pleased! More so, in May of 1895, to great acclaim, he selected twenty of his canvases and exhibited them at the gallery of his friend and art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. His canvases were highly-priced, but eight of them were sold before the exhibition was over! https://www.mfa.org/article/2020/rouen-cathedral-series
As for the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation version, the Museum Experts present the painting as “one of the most complete paintings of the series and probably the one Monet himself appreciated the most…” and they continue describing how “the colour palette dominated by pink, automatically conveys us (the viewer) to the first minutes of the day. The viewer (the experts proceed) feels privileged before this spectacle, as it is portrayed at a time when few people go out. The sun, which is not yet shining on the façade, diffuses a light that allows us to gaze at it for some time and see all the details of the decoration. The cathedral demands respect regardless of the religious faith of the one standing before it, a fact that reminds us of the variable temporality of the passing time, but enlivens the same emotions daily.”
For a PowerPoint on the Rouen Cathedral Series, please… Check, HERE!
For the PowerPoint Photo Credits, please… Chek HERE!