France 1840 – 1926
In the Norwegian
[En norvégienne] c. 1887
oil on canvas
canvas 98.0 (h) x 131.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Princess Edmond de Polignac, née Winaretta Singer 1947
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Monet often used the figures of his stepdaughters in his paintings of a mediated world of nature and leisure. Here Germaine, Suzanne and Blanche Hoschedé are boating in the ‘Norwegian’, a type of wooden rowing-boat popular in France at the time. The youngest girl is standing up fishing, while her older sisters sit and relax, Blanche also trailing a rod in the river. The obvious artistic suspects can be seen here: Monet had looked at Japanese woodblock prints for their off-centre compositions, unusual viewpoints, and radical cropping. Photography contributed similar aesthetic strategies, especially wide angles of focus, use of reflections and cut-off vistas.
All external references to the world beyond the river are cut off by the composition, as Monet omits the sky and the earth. We look out over the water at the boat filled with girls, but the view of the far bank is limited by bosky undergrowth. Light is contained within the spear of the boat’s interior, intensified in Germaine’s white dress and hat, echoed in the blue-and-white costumes of the other young women, with warm touches added by yellow from their straw hats and pink flesh. Vertical mooring stakes connect to the pale reflections of three figures in the water, with sunlight filtering through the foliage and playing on the foreground of the river.
One inspiration for the composition of In the Norwegian may have been a woodblock print by Utagawa Toyokuni, Three women in a boat fishing by moonlight before 18251, which was later recorded as part of Monet’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints and, according to Virginia Spate, may have been owned by the artist at this time.2 The relationship between the works is schematic rather than detailed, with three female figures separated along the gentle arc of the simple vessel. More powerful than its unusual composition—most of the vision action is in the top right quadrant—is the choice of palette, and intensity of colouring. Dark greens and purple-blues dominate the canvas and seem to infiltrate the paler tones of the girls’ dresses, which light the interior of the boat.
Monet painted the senses, mainly sight, but evoking others such as hearing, scent and touch. Here the murmuring of wind and water is almost tangible. Time, it seems, has slowed down, almost coming to a standstill, as the girls are content to maintain their position while the summer day persists. Human activity projects into the dreaming world of dark water, foliage and shadows, barely interrupting the eternal flow of the river.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Illustrated in Virginia Spate, The colour of time: Claude Monet, London: Thames and Hudson 1992, p. 185.
- Spate, p. 186.