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  • Rouen Cathedral

Rouen Cathedral

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Rouen Cathedral
Artist: Claude Monet
Oil painting on canvas; Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

The paintings (Please search Rouen Cathedral in our website) illustrated here belong to a group of works depicting the facade of Rouen Cathedral that Monet commenced in 1892, when he went to the city for family reasons, and concluded in 1894. Each picture is dedicated to a specific moment of the day, so each day the painter must have worked on several canvases in parallel, going back to them the next day at roughly the same time. This is confirmed by the annotations, such as "late afternoon, around six," that are found on some of the paintings. So each work is different from the next as a result of variations in the lighting conditions, but forms part of a whole that can be divided into other groups: pictures painted by the light of morning, in full sunlight or around sunset.
The Rouen Cathedral series is made up of about fifty oil paintings that study the variations in light at different times of day on a single, unchanging the art subject, the facade of the famous Gothic church. Catching the light with its white and highly reflective marble surface, complicated decorations and strongly splayed portals, this creates constantly shifting patterns of light and shade. So there are canvases in which the pale blues of dawn predominate, or the white tones of the morning light, and while the facade takes on golden reflections at noon, in the afternoon it is tinged with shades of red and orange.
During the execution of these pictures Monet went through different states of mind, as his letters reflect; at times he seems to have been overcome by despondency, as in one he wrote on March 30, 1893 to Paul Durand-Ruel: "My stay here goes ahead: this does not mean that I am close to finishing my cathedrals. Alas, I can only repeat: the more I see, the worse I get at rendering what I feel; and I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is tremendously arrogant. Finished, meaning complete, perfect; and I work at full stretch without getting anywhere, seeking, groping, without achieving much, but to the point of exhaustion."
In 1895 the painter showed twenty or so of the roughly fifty pictures he had painted at Durand-Ruel's gallery. Not everyone appreciated the paintings and the reasons for the discordant views can be sought in part in what the painter Camille Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien: "It is the unhurried work of a strong will, which pursues the tiniest nuances of effect and which I have not seen done by any other artist. There are those who deny the need for such research when is taken to this point."

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