Saturday in the Museum with Claude

Image: Claude Monet, Nature morte au melon d’Espagne (1879)

This week’s art posting does not travel far from last week’s. We go from Manet to Monet. From 1864 to 1879. From fish to fruit. And we continue our still life series.

The still life of apples, grapes, and melon may be a tad out of season, but this year seemed to want to hold on to summer as long as possible. It looks like this painting was put up for auction by Christie’s in 2019. It was one of a series of still lifes that Monet did in 1879 during a grim personal stretch when he was financially stressed and he was recovering from his wife’s death. His family moved in with another family to save money. From the Christie’s write-up:

“In autumn 1879, Monet and his family had been living for just over a year at Vétheuil, a rural enclave some sixty kilometers northwest of Paris, far from the urban sprawl. An extended period of rain and gloom prevented the artist from painting outdoors, amidst the immensely varied landscape that he had already come to love, so he took refuge in the small attic space that he had outfitted as a studio and set up a basket overflowing with apples and variously colored grapes. During the ensuing weeks, as the wet weather persisted and then, in mid-November, gave way to a sudden freeze, Monet made three large paintings.”

Monet’s wife passed away in September, so this is a painting during a period of grieving, yet it has signs of hope, like the light coming into the attic space seen in the painting from the left:

“In Nature morte au melon, light enters the scene at the front left, illuminating the myriad textures of the artfully arranged still-life display. The smooth, waxy surface of the apples and grapes contrasts with the coarse wicker of the basket; the exposed portion of the bamboo-edged, wooden table bears a light polish, while the damask tablecloth has a checkered weave that Monet described with rapid strokes of pearly gray. Of the three paintings that Monet made of this motif in autumn 1879, the present canvas is the only one in which he added the cut melon at the right, a quotation perhaps of Chardin’s Le melon entamé (1760) in the Louvre and Monet’s own Nature morte au melon of 1872 (Wildenstein, no. 245; Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon).”

The house was shared with a married couple, who also had six children. Alice Hoschedé ran the house, and cared for Camille Monet until her passing. Ernest Hoschedé remained in Paris struggling to keep his textile business alive. He was a both a friend and former patron to Monet.

As the painting description explains, “Here, the glistening slice of fruit invites the viewer to consider other sensations—taste and smell—alongside the visual and textural effects that formed the crux of Monet’s still-life explorations.” That November Monet may have been also considering other sensations. By 1880 he and Alice were openly a couple, though he would have to wait until Ernest’s death in 1891 to formally marry her in 1892. Despite the sun-drenched paintings of these years, there was an awkwardness as Monet would absent himself when Ernest came to visit his children including that the famed house in Giverny. Frustrating as these absences were, his relationship with Alice would endure until her death in 1911.

The depths of that winter not only marked a turning point for Monet personally, it also marked a professional turn. After years of declining income, he trudged through the snow to Paris where he sold the still life paintings. That money tided him over for the next year or so, at which point his work reached an American audience and he returned to financial stability. Christie’s quotes Charles Stuckey that, “Financially speaking, landscape painter Monet was saved by his work in still life.”

Which is a long way of saying that, like Monet, we must brace for a long winter. Hopefully though, what we do now will tide us over until we can walk carefree again in sun-drenched gardens.


Of course, one of the things we strongly urge you do is support our local restaurants so they can survive the winter. Need some ideas – well this site happens to be a great dining guide for Washington, D.C. You can search in LIST or MAP format and sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current status (dine-in, take-out, delivery, etc.).

Tip big. Wear a mask.