Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Claude Monet - Poplars Series

Claude Monet, Poplars Along the River Epte, Autumn, 1891
(Private Collection)
Claude Monet, Poplars (Autumn), 1891

Claude Monet, Poplars, Four Trees, 1891
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Throughout the spring, summer and fall of 1891, Monet worked on his other famous series 'The Poplars,' some overlapping with his Grainstacks series.  He made 24 paintings of Poplars, which was known as the tree of freedom, symbolic of prosperity and fertility of France but also nationalism.  There were  three types of groups for these paintings -first group was three poplars with an 'S' curve in the back; second group was a lot of poplars with an 'S' curve; third group were poplars with their reflections.
Claude Monet, Poplars (Wind Effet) 1891
(Private Collection)
Previously In Argenteuil, Monet had encountered poplars, trees that were planted 8' apart single file, so that they would grow tall and not sideways into each other. They were planted in a marsh by the River Epte, which was very close to Monet's house in Giverny.  Monet painted the trees from his studio-boat that was moored by the trees, which he reached with a small boat he borrowed from Caillebotte.  Before he was finished with his paintings the town wanted to auction and sell the trees, so in order to continue, Monet bought the trees and then sold them after he was finished with them to a lumber merchant.

The S- curve that was outlined by the top of the trees in the background was a crucial element in these paintings, not only did it add motion to the image but also the S-curve had associations with the Rococo.  Ingres had used the S-curve in his female figures for beauty and grace. Monet and his audience at the time would, of course, recognize this which caused some critics and artists to disapprove of the Poplars Series as too pretty and too decorative. But at the end of 19th century, decorative was favorable and they sold really well.  Viewers actually loved these paintings because of the S-curve and the decorative aspect which reminded them of France's dominance during the Rococo period.

Claude Monet, Poplars on the River Epte, 1891
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

A Decorative Arts museum was built in Paris around 1882 and there was a reawakening to the need to reinforce France's superiority in the decorative arts, which had peaked in the 18th century.  Monet may be reclaiming this dominance through his Poplars.

Monet's concern regarding the Poplars seems to be parallel to the Grainstacks, in that there is more to them than just the effects of light and atmosphere on a landscape. They are also about community, nationalism, France's dominance and the prevailing taste that appealed to a wide audience - helping to secure Monet's position as one of the most dominant artist of his time and add to his prosperity.

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