At the Clark Institute, Renoir Shows Mme. Monet in Control of her Woman’s World

THE DAILY PIC: Claude Monet's wife floats above a sea of brushwork and chintz.


THE DAILY PIC (#1379, Clark Institute edition): I can’t say I’m a big fan of the works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, with a few very notable exceptions – including this Portrait of Madame Monet, painted in about 1874 and now at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., whose collection has been the subject of this whole week of my Pics.

I wonder if Renoir’s adoption of the most aggressive Impressionist brushwork for this portrait is part of how it represents its sitter, who was, after all, married to the most brushworky of the Impressionists. Claude Monet is, as it were, represented as a presence floating all around her – as a kind of identifying “attribute”, like an author’s quill or mason’s trowel.

I’m also intrigued by the connection the canvas seems to make between its patterns of paint and the allover patterns of the textiles it represents. I’ve done some work on how Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists had links (and even a debt) to postwar fabric design, and I wonder if someone’s researched the same connections in the 1870s. (There’s talk in that vein around Edouard Vuillard, the post-Impressionist dressmaker’s son, but I’m not sure what’s been done on his predecessors.)

Of course as soon as you mention textiles, you’re talking women’s work and the woman’s domain in the home. And that means that Mme. Monet may have more agency in this picture than we might at first think, from seeing her smothered in her husbands brushstrokes and disappearing into bourgeois chintz. After all, it’s her chintz, and she’s at ease in it with a book.

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