The ultimate muse...


Women in the Garden by Claude Monet
(1866)

French // Impressionism
Painted with oil paints on 205 x 255 cm canvas
Currently on display at Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

While Claude Monet is now primarily known as a landscape painter (hello, water lillies!), his early works featured a variety of portraits. Out of all of them, his first wife Camille is the most popular subject. Painted in 1886, “Women in the garden” is one of his most well-known portrait paintings. It features three women in period dresses, for which Camille posed for all 3 of the ladies in the portrait.

Camille was just 18 when she met Monet. They were introduced by Monet’s studio partner Bazille – who knew Camille through her modelling work for other painters. Camille was reportedly enchanting with her wit and full of kindness and grace. When they met, Claude Monet was said to be completely captivated by her eyes and asked her to pose for a painting he was doing at the time called “The Picnic”. Monet’s first real taste of recognition and commercial success came from an early painting of Camille around this same time. His full-length painting of Camille in a rented green promenade dress sold for an unbelievable 800 francs – an amount unheard of for a young, unknown artist at the time.

Camille and Monet’s relationship thrived with the scandalous addition of a baby boy approximately one year later. It took them another 4 years to officially wed with Monet’s family boycotting the wedding and withdrawing all monetary support to the couple – leaving Monet and his new family in a precarious financial position struggling to pay rent, moving constantly and often fleeing in the night.

In 1877 Camille & Monet moved to a small french village and welcomed into their family home a former wealthy patron of Monet’s who had recently lost his fortune. Ernest & Alice Hoschede and their 6 children moved in and Alice nursed Camille when she became gravely ill following the birth of her second son Michel in 1878. It was wildly rumored that Monet & Alice had already started having an affair by the time the Hoschede’s came to live with the Monet’s – even speculation that one of Alice’s sons had been fathered by Monet during a previous visit of his to the Hoschede’s chateaux in 1876.

Camille tragically never got to profit off her husband’s eventual prosperity and she also never got to see the gardens of Giverny which inspired the famous Water Lilllies and landscapes that Monet would become so famous for. Camille died in 1879 at the very young age of 32 leaving behind her two sons and a legacy of roughly forty paintings from some of the most famous painters of the time including Renoir & Manet. Side note: A recent Renoir painting of Camille sold for approx US$15 million.

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

- Claude Monet

As one last final act in her role of muse, Monet painted a portrait of Camille just after she’d passed away – It’s a shadowly blizzard of paint that is cold and tragic but tenderly captures the enduring love between Camille & Monet. In describing the artwork to a friend Monet writes –

”You cannot know the obsession, the joy, the torment of my days…I was at the deathbed of a lady who had been, and still was very dear to me…I found myself staring at [her] tragic countenance, automatically trying to identify” things like “the proportions of light.”

Monet insisted that the painting never be exhibited and he never signed the artwork.

Following Camille’s death, Alice continued to live with Monet and raise their combined family. They eventually married some 14 years later once Alice’s estranged husband eventually died. However, during this time in cold fits of jealousy Alice removed all trace of Camille from their family life – including destroying all her letters and photographs. It seems she did a pretty thorough job with only one photograph remaining of Camille.

But no-one – not even a jealous second wife – could remove this famous muse from her beautiful paintings that today hang proudly in art galleries all around the world. RIP Camille.