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Impressionism & the École de Paris

Claude Monet (1840-1926) would leave behind some 200 paintings of the waterlily pond he had built at his home in Giverny, which were painted from about 1899 to the year of the artist’s death. These works were unique in that Monet composed them solely of an expanse of water, as if cut out of the pond’s surface, with no horizon or waterline and no sky— elements normally considered essential parts of a landscape painting. In this painting of the pond surface dotted with waterlilies, the branches of the weeping willows and poplars that line the banks of the pond are reflected in deep green running down the right and left sides of the canvas, while the sky is reflected as a light green expanse in the center. It is a mysterious world in which waterlilies floating on the pond and the trees and skies reflected on the pond’s surface exist together and reality intersects with illusion, all within the quintessential flatness of the water surface. In the year Monet painted this painting, he also worked on about 15 paintings of similar composition in vertical format and canvas size. From the difference in the colors used in these works, we see Monet’s signature method of painting the same scene in different lights at different times of day.

Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1907, 92.5 x 73.5cm

This colorless gray picture plane is defined by rounded curving lines and geometrically drawn straight lines that form an interesting composition with the appearance of something assembled from nondescript found objects such as wood fragments from the sea floor or stones. However, what the artist Picasso (1881-1973) depicts here is actually the figure of a sleeping woman. The circle in the center is a mouth lined with teeth and the surrounding oddly shaped, mushroom-like forms are the head and neck, while the two crescent shaped lines represent closed eyelids. Lying below the long neck is a luxuriant swell of breast. Although each part may appear flat in itself, the way they overlap creates a sense of depth. During the spring of 1927, Picasso did at least five paintings of sleeping women with open mouths. In the unconsciously opened mouth is a full line of teeth, perhaps suggesting an unexpected beastly side to the voluptuously bodied woman.

Pablo Picasso, Woman in an Armchair, 1927, 81.0 x 65.0cm
© 2007-Succession Pablo Picasso-SPDA (JAPAN)

Among the group of foreign artists active in Paris in the first half of the 20th century known as the "École de Paris," Marc Chagall (1887-1985) is especially well known. As a Russian Jew, however, he had no choice but to flee from France during the Nazi invasion and decided to go to the U.S. The work The Red Sun was painted by Chagall shortly after returning to France after the War. In it we see Chagall ’s mysterious world in which figures float in the air as if weightless. The bright colors of the figures, animals and bouquets against the nocturnal darkness of the background seems to reflect the artist’s desire to hasten the recovery from the dark war era. We see a line drawing to the lower left of the candlestick made by etching in the black paint with a sharp instrument. What is drawn there is none other than the Chagall of his younger days painting at his easel.

Marc Chagall, The Red Sun, 1949, 139.5 x 98.0cm
© ADAGP, Paris & SPDA, Tokyo, 2007

Other Works in the Collection

  • Camille Pissarro, The Hay Cart, Montfoucault, 1879
  • Pierre Auguste Renoir, Bather, 1891
  • Pierre Bonnard, Nude in the Bathroom, 1907
  • Georges Braque, Mandolin, 1912
  • Henri Matisse, Nude in an Armchair, 1920
  • Tsuguharu Foujita (Léonard Foujita), Portrait of Anna de Noailles, 1926
  • Pablo Picasso, Sylvette, 1954
  • Marc Chagall, King David's Dream, 1966
  • Museum