France 1840 – 1926
Study of a figure outdoors: woman with a sunshade turned to the right
[Essai de figure en plein-air: femme à l'ombrelle tournée vers la droite] 1886
oil on canvas
canvas 131.0 (h) x 88.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of Michel Monet, the artist's son 1927
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Monet experienced financial success in 1886 when he sold thirteen canvases shown at the Georges Petit gallery in Paris. This allowed him to acquire a small island, Ile aux Orties, near Giverny at the mouth of the Epte, some 80 kilometres west of the capital. The location became a favoured sanctuary for his mistress Alice Hoschedé and their children.1 The island, like his garden and pond at Giverny, also became a subject for his art.
One day in the summer of 1886 Monet looked up from his boat to see the silhouetted figure of Alice’s daughter Suzanne Hoschedé standing on the grassy embankment. He was inspired to paint this vision, as it reminded him of the composition he had painted of his late wife Camille and their little son Jean eleven years earlier in 1875.2
This work is one of two versions. Monet has not attempted a recognisable portrait of Suzanne, but rather has painted an ethereal figure, draped in a flowing white dress, wearing a boater with a long scarf fluttering behind her. The features of the woman’s face are barely perceptible and perhaps hauntingly recall the face in Monet’s vision of his dying wife in 1879.3
In Study of a figure outdoors, much of Suzanne’s torso is shaded by a green umbrella, and the shadows in pale blue and green fall across her body rather than shape it. While the other version of this subject shows the young woman being buffeted in the summer breeze4, this canvas depicts her in less dramatic conditions; the sky is a dappled blue, and the long grass pink in the sun—echoed in the evanescent clouds behind her.
During the 1880s Monet appears to have concentrated on landscapes devoid of figures, thus this figure depicted in the outdoors is rare. When both paintings of Suzanne Hoschedé went on display, along with a series of haystacks in 1891, Monet commented:
It’s the same young woman, but painted in two different atmospheric effects; I could have done fifteen portraits of her just like the stack of wheat. For me it’s only the surroundings which give the real value to subjects.5
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
- After the death of his first wife Camille, Alice Hoschedé became the artist’s mistress. In 1892 the couple married after the death of Alice’s husband Ernest Hoschedé the year before.
- ‘But it’s like Camille at Argenteuil!’ Virginia Spate, The colour of time: Claude Monet, London: Thames and Hudson 1992, p. 175.
- Daniel Wildenstein, Monet: the triumph of Impressionism, Koln: Taschen; Paris: Wildenstein Insitute 1996, vol. 2, cat. 543, p. 212. The painting referred to is Camille Monet on her deathbed, collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
- Wildenstein, vol. 3, cat. 1077, p. 408.
- Spate, p. 175 and note.