This picture, executed between 1866 and 1867, marked the beginning of a fundamental period in Impressionism, that of painting en plein air, in the open air. Between 1865 and 1866 Monet worked on a Dejeuner sur l'herbe inspired by the famous painting of Manet of 1863 (Musee d'Orsay), and sought to develop a personal relationship with nature by painting as much as possible from life. All that survives of the Dejeuner sur l'herbe (known as The Picnic in English) are three preparatory studies and the central parts of the picture, as the artist never finished it: he had retouched it on the basis of comments made by Courbet but afterwards regretted the changes he had made, and rolled up the canvas and left it in the house at Chailly, which he had to abandon as he was unable to pay the rent. He gave the painting to his landlord in lien, and when he reclaimed it, several years later, found it moldy and damaged by the damp in several places. Later he decided to work on a similar subject exclusively en plein air, without preparatory studies: Women in the Garden. This was a picture of considerable size and Monet himself said of it: "I really painted this canvas on the spot, looking directly at nature, something that was not done at the time. I had made a hole in the ground, a sort of pit, and gradually lowered my canvas into it, when it came to painting the upper part. I was working at Ville d'Avray, where I had sometimes been advised by Courbet, who came to see me." There is another anecdote about Courbet, who found the painter idle when he paid him a visit: when he asked why, he was told that he was waiting for the sun. Courbet replied that he could be painting the background in the meantime, but Monet did not accept the advice, arguing that he wanted to obtain a complete uniformity of light. This response is particularly significant, in that it underlines what was new about the Impressionist technique: it required in fact that every phase in the realization of the work be done outdoors, doing away with any intervention in the studio. In the painting reproduced here all the attention is focused on the light and the shadow of the trees, and the presence of the female figures is subordinate to the importance given to the natural setting. The artist is not interested in painting portraits in a landscape painting, or in explaining the reasons for the women's meeting, creating dynamics that would bring the stiffly posed figures to life and reveal their psychological attitudes, and so we should not be surprised at the lack of expression on their faces.
These artistic choices were very different from the values appreciated by the teachers of the Academy, and it is no wonder that the canvas was rejected by the Jury of the 1867 Salon.
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