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A Tale of Two Impressionist Paintings...

We're getting ready to have a wonderful Fête Nationale, what we in the States often incorrectly call Bastille Day. Each year, we celebrate on July 14th - with a lot of national pride, hymns, like la Marseillaise, and displays of France's flag - le Tricolore.

Let's take a P'Niche peek at another misnomer that most non-French people make - that two incredible famous paintings by Claude Monet represent le Quatorze Juillet celebrations...

Record Scratch - what?

That's right, two incredible works by master impressionist Claude Monet, would seem to celebrate a day of independence, but in fact, don't address France's Independence Day at all.

Very briefly, Claude Monet, was born in Paris on November 14, 1840, but moved to Normandy shortly before his fifth birthday. Monet's oil painting titled "Impression Sunrise" was completed in 1872 and is most often credited with lending the name Impressionism to this artistic movement.

More on Claude Monet (and his many works and impressionist pals) later, so we will hope you will subscribe to join us back here in the Parisian Niche...

Ok, OK - so if his works don't celebrate Independence Day, why were they painted?

Great question, P'Nicher!

Monet felt incredible guilt over the suffering of the times (as well as the pain of the loss of his own friends, Renoir and Mirbeau), and felt that it was his patriotic duty to convey French pride through his talents and artistic works.

That brings us to June 30, 1878. This date was a governmentally sanctioned day / festival - marking not only the opening of the Universal Exhibition (that's World's Fair to you and me), but more importantly, the end of the French Third Empire.

The country still needed healing after the stunning losses of the Franco-Prussian war and this new festival day was meant to not only encourage French nationalism, but also to reinforce confidence in the Republican regime.

Our Monet was set to task to capture this patriotism and set it to canvas.

Think "Fluctuat nec Mergitur" but make it art!

That brings us to today's first - "you know - that French flag painting..."

Monet's La Rue Saint-Denis was completed circa 1878 and is an oil on canvas.

Given the angle of the artwork, we correctly assume that Monet was perched high upon a Parisian balcony overlooking la rue Saint-Denis. He was able to take in the glorious rippling (almost truly alive and breathing) sea of blue, white, and red flags, working to the tune of proudly displayed nationalism and chants of "Vive la France, Vive la Répulique!" down below...

While the flags (rightly) dominate the brilliantly colored canvas, we can take note of the perspective - the inverted triangle of the sky rests steadily upon the upright triangle of the crowds.

Now, Monet was no stranger to criticism.

That said, even social commentators (and art critics) like brothers Edmond and Jules Goncourt had to admire Monet's viewpoint - where only the glory of the day was seen from above and well hid hearses that still carried the dead through the streets that very day - although they too, were covered in le Tricolore - the day's honor to them.

I mean, everyone's a critic, amiright?!

If three is a perfect number, and many consider it to be, this painting really hits the mark with its dominance of three colors - red, white, and blue - a set trinity, like three perfect notes of music upon a scale.

Perhaps this artistic musicality is what drew the attention of famed French composer, Emmanuel Chabrier, who quickly snapped up the tableau before it was passed to avid Impressionist collector François Depeaux.

Upon his passing, Depaux donated his collection to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen, where this fantastic artwork can still be viewed today...

That brings us to our second Monet work of the day - "fraternal twin," La Rue Montorgueil.

I hear you, I hear you - this one must be to celebrate le Quatorze Juillet right? Nope - keep in mind that July 14 was not designated a national holiday until 1880 - two years after this festival of peace and patriotism.

We're still at June 30, 1878, where Monet captured his patriotic artistic reportings of the day, translating them, again, to oil on canvas.

We note again that the inverted triangle of the bright sky mirror against the darker (and upright) triangle of the crowd and street below. While the pride is still ever apparent in this painting - it is almost "quieter" than Saint Denis, as we see Parisians mix and mingle on the street below, not entirely covered by flags as in its counterpart.

As with the other painting, Monet shared his bird's eye view of the day - with small strokes and slashes of color.

You can almost imagine you hear the a military parade and joyfully hopeful chatter below.

Unlike Saint Denis, this painting remains in Paris and lives at the Musée d'Orsay. We think friend Renoir said it perfectly - "Monet is just an eye - but what an eye!"

Both rue Montorgueil and rue Saint Denis are easy to visit and we imagine they are added to your list, if not there already!

What do you think, P'Nichers? Ready to view these paintings or even better, pick up your own paint brush? Let us know what you think in the comments below et à bientôt!


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