Claude Monet Terrace at Sainte-Adresse (Garden at Sainte-Adresse)
Decades ahead of its time, this early canvas by Claude Monet, made in 1867, some 7 years before the first Impressionist exhibition, adopted early the compositional concerns and flat spatial plane of the Japanese woodblock prints that had only recently made their way out of the formerly trade-locked Japan. Terrace at Sainte-Adresse is a serene vision of a bourgeois garden terrace, inundated with flowering plants. In the distance, the viewer can clearly make out the distant figures of sailing ships and steam engines, representing the ceaseless gallop of nineteenth-century modernity. Currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this uncharacteristic take on a leisurely retreat is a stark and eloquent work from the Impressionist master.
Terrace at Sainte-Adresse features Monet's family, most notably his father reclining on a deck-chair in a panama hat, on the terrace of his aunt's home, close to the English channel on the French coast near Le Havre. As well as the figure of the father, one can make out Monet's aunt hidden under a white umbrella and Marguerite Lecadre, a cousin of the painter. In the foreground two empty seats are left vacated by a young man and woman, constantly under the watchful eyes of the senior figures monitoring from their seats. As with much of his work, Monet presents himself as a member of the bourgeois world, as the resolute structuring forms obtained by the straight flag poles, the billowing flags, and the sturdy balustrade of the terrace all reinforce a sense of unwavering permanence. Yet this visual style is offset by the freeform approach and the loose, fluid brushstrokes which the artist applies to the blooming flowers that litter the terrace, prefiguring the enduring works that would be created at his garden at Giverny some two and three decades later.
Monet utilizes an elevated viewpoint to convey the fugitive nature of his depiction, and thereby captures the torrential speed of progress represented by the mass of ships and juxtaposes this by the static yet insurgent spirit of the natural vegetation. The geometric arrangement of the canvas and the arrangement of the vista is a noticeable nod to the Japanese prints that had spread around French salons in the 1860s. The decorative and synthetic character of these elegant prints would come to dominate and revolutionise how the nascent modernist painters saw the world and reflected the march of modernity in the stoic solace of nature.
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