Mark Harden's Artchive Monet, Claude
Hotel des Roches Noires, Trouville
1870
Oil on canvas
80 x 55 cm (31 1/2 x 21 5/8 in.)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

 

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Here Monet literally flies his flag in the face of the academics of the Paris Salon. Imagine the indignation occasioned by the brazenly unfinished banner that dominates the initial impression of this painting. Today, with hindsight we can appreciate the original handling used by Monet to impart the motion and vibrancy of the flag. It can almost be heard snapping in the wet ocean breeze. Compositionally, the flag counterbalances the strong perspective lines in the right and bottom portions of the canvas. These lines, in the receding gaslights and railing on the left, the pathway in the center, and the looming hotel on the right, converge to a remarkably close vanishing point. Only the white canopy halts the recession in time to keep the viewer from tumbling into a perspectival abyss. Monet intensifies the effect by cropping the hotel on the right and by the sharp angle of sun and shadow. Coming from high over the right shoulder, the strong sunlight creates a shadow in the bottom right corner of the canvas that gives the viewer an uncanny sense that the building continues beyond the right periphery of his vision. Suddenly, the viewer is jerked into the painting, which is of course what Monet intended by giving the picture such a powerful perspective. You find yourself joining the other hotel patrons in their stroll along the waterfront, preparing to doff your hat in cheerful greeting. And you join willingly, because the artist has succeeded in constructing a scene of warmth and conviviality that is extremely inviting. The delicacy of Monet's composition can be comprehended by the mental removal of the figures from the scene. Immediately, the entire feeling of warmth is lost and the viewer's participation in the painting is revoked. Monet has achieved a masterful synthesis of subject matter and composition to evoke the sensation of a light-hearted stroll along the French coast.

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