Cathedral de Rouen(painted 1892) by Claude Monet
“ To me the motif itself is an insignificant factor. What I want to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me.”
Before 1892, Monet had never focused on one building or architectural element or even painted one motif as often as he did with Rouen Cathedral and its facades.
Its maybe important to note that the English painter Turner, had created an engraving of the Cathedral as part of a series of works. Monet had visited England in 1871 and is believed to have seen the works of this great painter of atmosphere and light, who was also a practitioner of ‘impressionism,’ in his own way. It cannot be underestimated the influence this experience may have had on Monet’s approach to his own work.
Monet must have become enchanted by the cathedral, or at least, by the effect of the changing light, bringing out a myriad of different accents in the form of the architecture. Monet took a room directly opposite the cathedral. From his window he could see only the top half of the building. This detail; comprised mainly of the Portal determined the first paintings in the series. Monet became fascinated by this close-up of the cathedral with the mason’s stonework in all its intricacies and lacing. He concentrated on the movement of light across the cathedral’s Portal. Monet painted many versions; in blues, yellows and purple shades; some in bright sunlight, others in hazy sunlight and even foggy conditions. The hues though, were more subdued and the effect more sublime than in his work up to this point.
Monet returned to Rouen a year later, bringing some of the canvases from the previous visit, so that he could make the finishing touches. This time he rented a different apartment, which offered a different view of the cathedral. During this phase, Monet became extremely enthralled by the creative possibilities that were unfolding. Monet wrote to his wife in 1892 “ I am worn out. I can’t go on. And something that I have never experienced before, I have spent a night filled with nightmarish dreams: the cathedral kept falling on me, and at times it seemed blue, at others pink, at others yellow.”
It is likely that Monet continued to work on the Rouen paintings long after he had left and returned to Giverney, perfecting them in his studio.