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Rouen Cathedral in the evening

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1894, 100×65 cm • Oil, Canvas

Description of the artwork «Rouen Cathedral in the evening»

In 1892, Claude Monet accidentally found himself in the capital of Normandy, Rouen. He was settling his father's inheritance there. The Rouen Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral, which a few years ago was the tallest building in Europe, made a powerful impression on the artist.

Until then, Claude Monet had never painted architecture, and neither was he interested in it that time. As a matter fact, masterpieces of architecture are not painted like that: the facade of the cathedral occupies almost the entire canvas, the towers cut off by the top edge of the picture. The Rouen Cathedral series consists of more than 30 canvases, each of them being, as always, about light and air: The Rouen Cathedral in the evening, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal, Grey Weather, The Rouen Cathedral at Noon and a dozen of their atmospheric variations.
Monet's contemporaries said that Monet managed to revive even the stone, and was able to portray the model not only in three dimensions, but also in the fourth one – in the progression of time. Having seen The Rouen Cathedral at noon in the Shchukin collection, Kazimir Malevich was very impressed and wrote about Monet as the prophet of the new art who managed to grow on the cathedral's surface a pure painting, more important than the depicted object itself.

For the artist himself, this story was a real battle with a completely new model: every single day from February to April 1892, he came to a dressmaker's shop across from the cathedral and painted all day long. He paid the owner of the shop to have a constant access to the room on the second floor. However, in a few days shoppers started grumbling against the artist, so he was forced to paint from behind a screen. Some crazy painter occupied the entire dressing room, having installed a dozen canvases in it, and kept running from one to the other.

Before the Rouen Cathedral, Monet had already created a series with grainstacks and poplars. But his usual way to paint a series was broken over the spring foul weather in Rouen. It was in his native village of Giverny that the artist could place 20 canvases along the river in the height of summer and paint poplars at different times of the day, barely managing to change the canvas to the one displaying the trees at the corresponding time. Day after day, the poplars were lit by the sun the same way at a certain time of the day. And in Rouen there was the darned off-season with fogs and rains...

Monet worked frenziedly and nervously, his mood changed several times a day: he was enraptured by a successfully captured shade but any failure could bring utter despair. This extreme degree of tension resulted in a special texture of the series. The surface seems to be made of several layers of paint.
By the end of his stay in Rouen, in one of the daily letters to his wife, Monet complained: "I'm worn out, I cannot go on, and something which never happens, my sleep was filled with nightmares: the cathedral fell down on top of me, it appeared either blue, pink or yellow..."

Still, Monet won this fight. Modern museums should thank the spring fogs and rains of Rouen – the number of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral in different weather and under different lighting was enough to decorate the collections of the Rouen Museum of Fine Arts, the D'Orsay Museum, as well as the museums of Germany, the USA, Japan, and Switzerland. Two of the 30 paintings are exhibited here, in the Pushkin Museum.
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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Architecture
Style of art and technique: Impressionism, Oil

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