Richard Green Gallery has lent Claude Monet’s Falaise à Varengeville, 1882, to the National Gallery, London’s superb exhibition Monet and Architecture, which continues until 29th July. Curated by Professor Richard Thomson, the exhibition examines the ways in which Monet – so often thought of primarily as a landscape painter – used architecture in his work. It ranges from early views of Normandy coastal resorts such as Trouville and Honfleur, near Le Havre, where Monet’s grew up, to the smoky poetry of The Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877, to the gently melancholic, dreamlike Venetian paintings of 1908.
Falaise à Varengeville was a fruit of Monet’s painting campaign in Normandy in 1882. He depicts the jagged, vertiginous cliffs on a sunny spring day, with brilliant green headland and the sea a peaceful turquoise. At the pivot of water and land is a red-roofed customs cabin, one of the structures built in the Napoleonic Wars to survey the coastal approaches and prevent the British enemy from carrying on a clandestine trade with Europe. Tucked into the immense cliffs, the cabin symbolises the insignificance of man against the power and grandeur of nature, yet visually it is the object on which the whole composition turns. Man can be crushed by nature, but can magically recreate it – as Monet does here – in the act of painting.
Falaise à Varengeville was sold to Monet’s dealer Paul Durand-Ruel and featured in an exhibition of the artist’s work in the spring of 1883, the first one-man show by a member of the Impressionist group. The exhibition was enthusiastically received, the critic Alfred Lostalot commenting that Monet ‘knows his trade and employs it on a grand scale….this seems to me to be the description of a true artist’. Monet’s journey from edgy Impressionist to the Grand Old Man of French painting had begun.