Rouen Cathedral: Full Sunlight
1894; Louvre, Paris
La cathédrale de Rouen, le portail, temps gris
(Rouen Cathedral, the West Portal, Dull Weather)
dated 1894, painted 1892 (200 Kb); Oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm (39 3/8 x 25 5/8 in); Musee d'Orsay, Paris
La cathédrale de Rouen, le portail et la tour Saint-Romain,
plein soleil, harmonie bleue et or
(Rouen Cathedral, the West Portal and Saint-Romain Tower, Full Sunlight,
Harmony in Blue and Gold)
dated 1894, painted 1893 (240 Kb); Oil on canvas, 107 x 73 cm (42 1/8 x 28 3/4 in); Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Monet's persistence in painting in series, beginning with the Gare Saint-Lazare and continuing in the Poplars and Haystacks, attains an impressive climax in the series he devoted to Rouen Cathedral. He began work at Rouen early in 1892, the year after he had finished the Haystacks and the last of the Poplars, and took a room above a shop in the rue Grand-Pont from which to observe the west front of the great church. He broke off to return to Giverny but resumed work at Rouen in the spring of 1893. The rest of that year and most of 1894 was spent in completing the paintings from memory. Twenty of them, ranging in effect from dawn to sunset, were exhibited at Durand-Ruel's gallery in 1895 with great success. Monet's friend Clemenceau justly praised their `symphonic splendour'. Pissarro reproved adverse criticism in the letter to his son in which he remarked on the series as `the work, well thought out, of a man with a will of his own, pursuing every nuance of elusive effects, such as no other artist that I can see has captured'.
Monet, it is clear, was as little concerned with the subject, masterpiece of Gothic architecture though it was, as when painting his Haystacks. Where the building invited and challenged his ability was in the fretting of the surface as it caught the light and the profound effects of shadow in the deep recesses. The heavy grain of his thick paint gave its own animation to the façade. Working largely from memory he exchanged the more fluent technique of the plein-air picture finished at a sitting for this entirely opposite quality of carefully worked-up impasto. In addition, without direct reference to the building in reality, a poetic element in his nature seems to have come uppermost. There remains the sensation of Gothic without its detail curiously similar to that of Gaudi's Church of the Holy Family at Barcelona (mainly built about the same time as Monet was painting his Cathedrals)--another instance perhaps of the subtle and far-reaching influence of art nouveau. Otherwise, rather than conveying the atmospheric reality of sunlight, a painting such as the example given here can be appreciated as a gorgeous dream.