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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monet's Money Miseries

When you're a poor, struggling artist, barely keeping body and soul together, it's important to cultivate wealthy friends. The former described most of the would-be Impressionist during the 1860s when they were part-time or full-time students in one or more of the various ateliers surrounding the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The latter described only two or three of these young artists, lucky enough to come from relatively well-to-do families who supported their decisions to study art and become painters. Amongst these artists were Alfred Sisely, Frederick Bazille, and Paul Cezanne. Claude Monet also came from an upper-class family but had the misfortune of having a rather strong-willed, straight-laced father who objected to nearly every facet of his son's lifestyle and artistic temperament. It came to the point they were barely on speaking terms much of the time, and what financial support did come Monet's way came with so many strings attached the willful young son could seldom abide them very long.
Consequently, Monet was often at the mercy of all manner of economic problems during much of his life, and it was to these friends and fellow artists that he constantly turned whenever his financial affairs were at a low ebb. Sometimes they bought his paintings, often overpaying him, and always buying far more of them than they had any need for. Beyond that, Monet constantly hounded them for money, especially Bazille. In letter after letter he outlined the dire straits in which he found himself, requesting loans, or outright gifts of money to see him through this or that financial emergency. At various times over the years Bazille shared meals and studio space with Monet and several other old friends from their days in the studio of their former instructor, Charles Gleyre.
Women in the Garden,1866, Claude Monet
In the fall of 1866, Monet's financial position was so precarious he was forced to flee Paris for Le Havre to escape the ever-present hounding of creditors, but not before slashing nearly two hundred canvases he could not take with him in order to keep them from being seized and sold for as little as 30 francs in lots of fifty. A year later, he had to leave behind in Paris his pregnant wife, Camille, without financial support, and journey to Sainte-Adresse to live with an aunt. He could not even raise the train fare to visit her after the baby was born. Worsening his situation, his painting, Women in the Garden, was rejected by the 1867 Salon jury, dashing all hopes of  selling other works to help support his wife and son, Jean, born that fall. However by 1868 he was back with Camille and the baby, but without money for coal, paint, or canvases. He was chronically depressed. Once more, he turned to his old friend Bazille who agreed to buy Women in the Garden for the outrageous price of 2500 francs, paid in installments of 50 francs per month, which apparently put something of a strain on the budget of the relatively wealthy young man. He was, after all, himself existing on an allowance from his father.   

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