Wall Street Journal
January 5, 2017
In the summer of 1858, Eugène Boudin, the painter of Normandy seacoasts, took his 17-year-old protégé, Claude Monet (1840-1926), to work from the landscape in a village near Le Havre. The gifted teenager’s canvas, “View Near Rouelles” (1858), begins “Monet: The Early Years,” at the Kimbell Art Museum: a sunlit, verdant field, sliced by a narrow river and framed by trees. A fisherman sits on the bank. It’s an astonishing picture—not only because of its precocious accomplishment, but also because it anticipates the way the mature Monet evokes the play of light on leaves, flowers, grasses and water, at a particular moment, in a particular season, without describing anything literally. More presciently, a row of tall, ragged poplars silhouetted against the sky is reflected in the river below, a motif Monet would return to more than three decades later, in one of his most daring series. And for further prescience, nearby, there’s a long horizontal painting of grainstacks under a spectacular sunset sky, made by the 24-year-old painter, along with some windswept views of the Normandy coast, at different times of day.
When Monet submitted these seaside paintings to the Salon of 1865—his first try—they were not only accepted but also admired and bought by a dealer. Encouraged by success, he began the enormous, extraordinarily ambitious “Luncheon on the Grass” (1865-66), a broadly painted picnic in a sun-dappled clearing in the forest of Fontainebleau, with the women’s wide skirts competing for attention with the pattern of light on a wall of trees. Intended for the 1866 Salon, but not completed in time, the vast picture was badly stored and damaged. Monet salvaged the two tantalizing fragments exhibited at the Kimbell and apparently kept them all his life. A full-length painting of his mistress, Camille Doncieux, in a green dress, was sent to the Salon instead and, again, accepted and praised. This, however, wasn’t a foretaste of the future. All but one of Monet’s later submissions to the Salon were rejected.