SEATTLE ART MUSEUM presents MONET AT ETRETAT, Through October, 17th 2021:

Monet by Theodore Robinson, 1890, charcoal on paper.

Monet by Theodore Robinson, 1890, charcoal on paper.

For “Monet at Etretat”, the Seattle Art Museum curators offer a zoomed in view on a formative period in Monet’s life before he encountered renown, the fulcrum on which the rest of his career balanced. It encompass a period of about 2 years during which he painted cliffs and everyday life in the small fishing town of Etretat, in Normandy, France.

The show offers a rare view into the struggles that Monet went through in the 1880’s experiencing personal and financial difficulties. It also provides insights into his work style.

The curator, Chiyo Ishikawa, organized this exhibition around “Fishing boats”, the only work by Monet that belongs to the SAM.

Fishing Boats at Etretat, Detail, Monet, 1885

Fishing Boats at Etretat, Detail, Monet, 1885

The exhibition is spread over three galleries. The first introduces the site of Etretat itself, with a series of 6 albumen silver print depicting the town in the 1800’s. This charming town, with its majestic cliffs, was a popular tourist destination at the time. Etretat was a sight documented by many artists, and the show presents paintings from contemporaries such as Eugene Boudin, Gustave Courbet and Jean Baptiste Corot. Monet’s agent suggested he work there in an effort to make his paintings more commercially attractive.

Boats on the Beach at Etretat, Monet, 1885

The second gallery matches historical technical innovation in painting with contemporary modes of curatorial exploration. We discover how paint tubes, with their colors already mixed, allowed for a wider range of color. New brushes held more paint. Lighter canvases provided painters with freedom of movement. All those innovations helped the impressionists transport their material for plein air painting sessions. A video of Nicholas Dorman, the Chief Conservator, demonstrates Monet’s painting technique. Presented are also 2 large monitors with images from German Photographer, Christoph Irrgang, superimposing his own photographs with Monet’s painting. There is a video from the Art Institute of Chicago showing through X-Rays his painting process.

The Cliffs at Etretat, Monet,1885

The third gallery contains eight paintings of Etretat by Monet, presenting 2 primary subjects: Fishing boats and Cliffs, in different light,  and with different weather and viewpoints. Monet introduced the aerial view to the Western artistic tradition by positioning himself high above the sites he documented, in the top floor of the hotel where he stayed.

This exhibition is a behind the scenes look at material, techniques, and Monet’s personal life. It is a reminder that success is often the confluence of many factors.

CLaire Renaut


Photos 1,2, and 4: copyright Seattle Art Museum.
Photo 3: copyright CLaire Renaut.