Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926),
Across the Meadow (A travers la prairie)
oil on canvas, 32 x 39 ¼ in., 81.3 x 99.7 cm
Gift of Mr. William Averell Harriman, 1944.79
The founder and prime exponent of Impressionism, Monet was introduced to the practice of painting outside (en plein air) by Eugene Boudin, a seascape artist who worked along the coast of Le Havre, the young Monet’s hometown. The activity of recording accurately the nuances and changes of color and tone in natural light resulted in images of far greater luminosity than those produced in the controlled light of the studio. This practice was to remain the central most important factor in Monet’s art for the whole of his lengthy career.
In 1859 he moved to Paris, where he met and worked with Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. Together these artists, led by Monet, worked out the spontaneous technique of painting dubbed (derisively at first by the inevitably hostile critics) “Impressionism”: raw, simple stokes of color juxtaposed rather than blended on the canvas to create a sensation of shimmering light. In Across the Meadow, Monet depicts a wide expanse of grass and flowers set against a backdrop of trees and distant hills. Three children cross the meadow, but they are of less interest to the artist than his own act of perception. Most apparent are the rhythmic, flickering brush strokes of color — yellow, green, pale blue, and lavender — which vibrate to create an overall two-dimensional pattern that describes the act of painting as much as a summer afternoon in the country.