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The Changing Face of Art

Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926) | Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) | 30.95.250

Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight), 1894. Oil on canvas; 39 1/4 x 25 7/8 in. (99.7 x 65.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.250)

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, popular art experienced a number of changes, many of which were influenced by the rapidly changing culture and environment of the day. The prevalent, Salon-accepted style of painting in the 1870s and 80s valued the seamless blending of paint and focused on classical, historical themes. As society was redefined by the Industrial Revolution, a new art form began to take shape. Artists such as Édouard Manet (1832–1883) began to present works that were much less uniform in their surface texture and had visible brushstrokes. We now know these painters as the Impressionists.

Impressionist paintings were much less focused on the classical themes that were then the norm in the art world and often depicted scenes of daily life or the world in which the artists lived. As the 1890s wore on, Impressionist paintings became much more abstract, and artists such as Claude Monet (1840–1926) and Georges Seurat (1859–­1891) began painting works that were simply a blend of spots of color. Monet’s Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) is a wonderful example of later Impressionist art. It consists of thickly applied color with heavy brushstrokes that Monet did little to conceal. The cathedral facade contains no exact lines or distinct features, but when the many spots of color are viewed from a few feet back, the painting comes to life. It is amazing how Monet was so perfectly able to indicate the time of day and the position of the sun using shadows, which he painted in subtle mixes of blue, green, and brown. Monet's depiction of the cathedral is stunning and a wonderful representation of the tenets of Impressionist painting.

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