Subscriber content

Impressionism and the sea

All the versions of this article: English , français

L’Impressionnisme et la mer.

Giverny, Musée des impressionnismes, from 29 March to 30 June 2024.

‘Impressionism and the sea’... it’s vague. The Giverny museum has chosen a risky subject for its new exhibition, not because it’s stormy, but rather because it’s flat; all the more so because it was already partly addressed during the second edition of the Normandie Impressionniste Festival in 2013, whose theme was ‘water’ (see article). Among the many museums taking part that year, the one in Caen focused on ‘seaside leisure’, the one in Le Havre on ‘Pissarro’s ports’ and the one in Rouen on ‘reflections’.
These themes reappear in the Giverny exhibition: the first room features paintings of harbours, another evokes holiday resorts and the pleasures of the beach, and a third is devoted to light, so inherent to Impressionism that it is difficult to confine it to a single section. Then come assortments of paintings illustrating low tides, storms and cliffs (ill. 1). Why were rivers excluded? Perhaps because the museum had already devoted an exhibition to ‘Impressionism along the Seine’ in 2010. So why was the sea of specific pictorial interest to the Impressionists? The answer to this question does not really emerge from this display of maritime motifs.


1. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
The Pointe du Petit Ailly, 1897
Oil on canvas - 73.5 × 92.7 cm
Nahmad Collection
Photo: Musée des Impressionnismes
See the image in its page

Although Normandy, the region that so many painters were drawn to, is a logical choice for the entire route, there is one site that is not to be missed: the cliffs of Étretat, painted many times by Claude Monet. Brittany has its own section, with works by Armand Guillaumin, Maxime Maufra, Henry Moret and Paul Gauguin. And the Mediterranean? Where is it, that sparkling sea under the southern sun? Yet it gave Monet a great deal of trouble, as he found it ‘terribly difficult’ to paint: ‘it would require a palette of diamonds and gems’. Yet only three paintings - by Renoir, Courbet and Guillaumin - scattered here and there, make…

To access this content, you must subscribe to The Art Tribune. The advantages and conditions of this subscription, which will also allow you to support The Art Tribune, are described on the subscription page. If you would like to test the subscription, you can subscribe for one month (at €8) and if you don’t like it, you can send us an e-mail asking us to unsubscribe you (at least ten days before the next direct debit).

If you are already a subscriber, sign in using this form.

Your comments

In order to be able to discuss articles and read the contributions of other subscribers, you must subscribe to The Art Tribune. The advantages and conditions of this subscription, which will also allow you to support The Art Tribune, are described on the subscription page.

If you are already a subscriber, sign in.