Léon Monet, brother of the artist and collector

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Léon Monet, frère de l’artiste et collectionneur
Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, from 15 March to 16 July 2023.

1. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
The Beach of Sainte-Adresse, 1864
Oil on canvas - 30 x 69 cm
Tochigi, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts
Photo: Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts
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Léon Monet, brother of the artist and collector. The subject is new, the personality just exhumed. After more than a century of posthumous oblivion, omitted by the teeming bibliography attached to his illustrious younger brother Claude, Léon Monet benefited from a timid rehabilitation at the Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen in 2020. An early Impressionist collector, his portrait was sketched out in the light of his relationship with the patron François Depeaux, to whom a retrospective exhibition was devoted (see article). Géraldine Lefebvre, an art historian specialising in Monet and currently in charge of the catalogue raisonné of his pastels, presented an initial biography of the little-known brother in an essay in the exhibition catalogue. After three years of additional research, she is now devoting a monographic exhibition to him at the Musée du Luxembourg.

2. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Ships in repair, 1873
Oil on canvas - 71.2 x 54 cm
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland
Photo : Creative Commons CC
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Nearly one hundred and sixty paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and archive documents have been brought together outlining the current state of recent knowledge of Léon Monet. Five thematic sections, following a broadly chronological thread, support the biographical milestones already highlighted in Rouen - Monet’s involvement in the Rouen cotton industry from 1870 onwards, and the creation of a particularly early Impressionist collection at the same time - and highlight the most recent discoveries - the establishment of a complete list of the collection and Monet’s work as a colour chemist for the Swiss company Geigy & C°, based in Maromme on the northern outskirts of Rouen. All these points are detailed in the book published to coincide with the exhibition, a perfect summary of the results of the initial research, but a confusing exhibition catalogue. The essays follow on from one another, despite the sections that only the rejected list of works in the appendices mentions. Not all the works exhibited are reproduced, and only those identified in the collection are given detailed notes. Of the sixty or so works in the collection, forty-six have been reunited with the Musée du Luxembourg, a challenge given their dispersal.

3. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Interior or Meditation,
Madame Monet on the sofa, c. 1871
Oil on canvas - 48 x 75 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo: RMN-GP/Gérard Blot
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4. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Étretat, 1864
Oil on canvas - 27 × 41 cm
Peindre en Normandie Collection
Photo: Collection
Peindre en Normandie
on deposit at Musée Les Franciscaines
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In addition to the majority of loans from private collections, which preserve the bulk of the corpus, international loans from the Museum of Fine Arts, Tochigi, Japan (ill. 1) and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (ill. 2), two views of Normandy to complement the two French loans from the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Les Franciscaines in Deauville, the famous Interior or Meditation (ill. 3) and an unusual view of Étretat (ill. 4). Like most of the works in the collection, the latter bears a handwritten note from Léon Monet on the reverse, specifying the place and date of execution, rather than the date of acquisition. This has a detrimental effect on the reconstruction of the history of the collection, which is detailed in two main sources that are otherwise incomplete. An album, probably drawn up by Léon Monet at a late, unknown date, compiling photographs of the works in their period frames, and Léon Monet’s inventory after his death, which lists the state of the collection on 25 September 1917. They are supplemented by Claude Monet’s account books, the auction results of certain sales, the catalogues raisonnés of the artists he collected, catalogues of exhibitions in Rouen organised by Léon Monet or of which he was a lender, articles from the Journal de Rouen and family photographs, the most important of which is the one of the salon in the Maison de Maromme, revealing the layout chosen by the collector.

5. Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Louveciennes road, Snow Effect, 1874
Oil on canvas - 65 x 92 cm
Potsdam, Museum Barberini
Photo: Hasso Plattner Collection
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6. Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
On the Beach, Les Petites-Dalles, Fécamp, 1873
Oil on canvas - 24.13 x 50.17 cm
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Photo: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts/Kaherine Wetzel
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Although only partial, the ensemble assembled is no less characteristic. First and foremost, of course, is Claude Monet, whose early landscapes and still lifes Léon acquired probably as early as 1865-1870, followed by his Impressionist friends Pissarro, whose first canvas acquired in 1872 was loaned in the process for the 23rd Municipal Exhibition in Rouen, and Renoir, two of whose three canvases were acquired at the first major Impressionist sale held at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris on 24 March 1875. Then there are the painters of the Rouen School, Georges Bradberry, Marcel Delaunay, Narcisse Guilbert, Charles Frechon and Joseph Delattre - some of whom we learn supplied drawings for the local textile industry - and a fine group of ten previously unpublished Japanese prints. Like his brother, and like many art lovers at the end of the 19th century, Léon Monet was fascinated by the arts of Japan, and in particular by crepons, flamboyant prints executed on crepe-like paper. Ten of the fifteen crépons he owned are shown here.

7. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
The Seine in Rouen, 1872
Oil on canvas - 49.2 x 76.2 cm
Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art
Photo: Shizuoka Prefectoral Museum of Art
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8. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
The Stone Bridge and Barges in Rouen, 1883
Oil on canvas - 54.2 x 65 cm
Columbus, The Columbus
Museum of Art
Photo: Columbus Museum of Art
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Superimposed on the strictly historical core is a group of other works by the artists collected, similar to those included in the collection, which could not be loaned or remain unlocated to this day. All these paintings shed light on Léon Monet’s innovative taste. We might mention the snowy landscape by Sisley from the Museum Barberini in Potsdam (ill. 5) or the two views of Petites-Dalles by Blanche Hoschedé Monet and Berthe Morisot (ill. 6), on loan from private collections and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, consoling the same beach and cliffs by Monet that remain in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. An essay in the catalogue recalls the importance of the picturesque Normandy site for Claude Monet, who devoted a series of more than a dozen paintings to it between 1880 and 1884, starting with his brother’s "Pink House". Similarly, each of the artist’s stays in Rouen, which gave rise to numerous views of the city from the Seine and then to the emblematic series of Cathedrals, were motivated by the fact that Léon had been living there since the very early 1870s. These are illustrated in the exhibition by the second Japanese loan, The Seine in Rouen from the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum (ill. 7), echoed by a similar later view by Pissarro on loan from the Columbus Museum of Art (ill. 8), and one of the Cathedrals from the Musée d’Orsay.

9. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Portrait of Adolphe Monet, 1865
Oil on canvas - 54 × 44.8 cm
New Brunswick, Zimmerli Art
Museum-Rutgers University
Photo: New Brunswick, Zimmerli Art
Museum-Rutgers University
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10. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Portrait of Léon Monet, 1874
Oil on canvas - 63 x 52 cm
Private collection
Photo: Private collection
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While there is no evidence of the discreet presence of still lifes by Monet in the collection - of which the Cleveland Museum of Arts holds Spring Flowers - A number of family portraits painted by the artist and those close to him complement those actually acquired. These include Monet’s father Adolphe, on loan from the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick (ill. 9), and the pastel portraits of his sons Jean and Michel from the Musée Marmottan Monet, which also loaned three effigies of Claude and his wife Camille Doncieux - the model for the aforementioned Interior or Meditation (ill. 3) - by Auguste Renoir. Preceding the only portrait of Léon painted by Claude (ill. 10) presented here for the first time - a sketchy effigy abhorred by the model who never hung it, an anecdotal quarrel foreshadowing the definitive rupture that occurred decades later shortly before Léon’s death in 1917 - they illustrate the two introductory biographical sections. The first section also includes a fine collection of family photographs and drawings from Claude’s youth. One of the highlights is one of the first two albums of drawings by Claude in 1856, which we know were acquired by Léon at a sale in Le Havre in 1893.

11. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
The Garden at Giverny, c. 1922-1926
Oil on canvas - 93 x 74 cm
Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet
Photo: Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
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12. View of the exhibition
Section "Léon Monet’s colourful kitchen".
Photo: RMN-GP/Didier Plowy
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The last satellite works selected for the final section of the exhibition, three late views of Giverny on loan from the Musée Marmottan (ill. 11), executed after Léon’s death, question the link that might exist between Claude’s dazzling palette - a palette on display elsewhere - and Léon’s professional activity as director of the only French subsidiary of the Geigy company, a Swiss manufacturer of synthetic aniline colours specialising in industrial dyes, pigments and textiles. This speciality is brilliantly presented in the exhibition, where one section brings together a wide range of colour and fabric samples (ill. 12) from the Musée industriel de la Corderie Vallois in Rouen - a museum created in 1874 on the initiative of Léon Monet and the Société industrielle de Rouen (SIR), which he had founded two years earlier - and from the archives of the pharmaceutical group Novartis, which absorbed Geigy. However edifying the comparison between Claude Monet’s final large-scale canvases and the industrial production of Maromme may be, and while it has been attested, as Georges Roque points out in an essay in the catalogue, that almost all the pigments used by the Impressionists were synthetic, it is impossible in the current state of research to confirm the seductive hypothesis that Claude Monet used the aniline colours developed by his brother. What remains is an obvious shared tropism for colour.

<Curated by Géraldine Lefebvre

Under the direction of Géraldine Lefebvre, Léon Monet. Frère de l’artiste et collectionneur, Musée du Luxembourg/Éditions Rmn-Grand Palais, 256 p., €39. ISBN : 9782711879656.

<Practical information: Musée du Luxembourg, 19 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris. Tel: 01 40 13 62 00. Open every day from 10am to 7.30pm. Late-night opening on Mondays until 10pm. Admission: €14 (concessions: €10).

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