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The Stroller (Suzanne Hoschedé, later Mrs. Theodore Earl Butler, 1868–1899), 1887
The Stroller shows Suzanne Hoschede (1866-1899) in the meadowsjust south of Le Pressoir, Monet's home at Giverny. Suzanne w as the third daughter of Alice and Ernest Hoschede, and, after his first wife, Camille, who died in 1879, tne artist's preferred model. Suzanne married the American Impressionist Theodore Butler (1876-1937)—they had met skating at Giverny—on July 20, 1892, four days after Monet and Alice Hoschede were officially married. She died in February 1899 after five years of illness.
The painting belongs to the same campaign as two others, Suzanne Reading and Blanche Painting (private collection, France) and Suzanne Reading and Blanche Painting in the Meadows of Giverny , all three executed at the same site. Indeed, Suzanne's costume here is identical to the one in the latter painting. Although not dated. The Stroller was probably painted in the sum- mer of 1887, and Monet's intentions are laid bare in an unusually revealing letter to Theodore Duret of August 13, 1887: "I am working like never before on a new endeavor, figures in plein air as I understand them, painted like landscapes. This is an old dream of mine, one that has always obsessed me and that I would like to master once and for all. But it is so difficult! I am working very hard at it, almost to the point of making myself ill."
Monet's return to figure painting, which had started the year before with Suzanne as The Woman with a Parasol (Musee d'Orsay, Paris), would continue intermittently during the next four years with paintings of the Hoschede daughters in boats and the Monet and Hoschede children in the Giverny countryside. The mode was abandoned altogether in 1890, when Monet turned to series painting as a way to resolve his dissatisfaction with the limitations of Impressionist subject matter. But it is clear, both from his correspondence and his itinerary of the following years, that it was in 1887 that Monet's efforts in this new direction were at their most concentrated.
In The Stroller, Suzanne is posed, almost like a photograph, in one of t he "vast and deep" meadows in front of Monet's garden, "where," wrote Octave Mirbeau, "rows of poplars, in the dusty mist of the Normandy climate, form charming, dreamlike backdrops " Over a gray-beige ground—visible only in the upper sections of her skirt— the paint is applied in successive layers of varied, yet consistently emphatic, brushwork. If the energetic, flickering dabs of blues, greens, mauves, and pinks in the background anticipate Monet's feathery handling in Bend in the Epte River near Giverny (Philadelphia Museum of Art) of 1888, the tree trunks, grass, and figure of Suzanne herself are rendered in more deliberate strokes, whose heavier rhythms anchor the pulsating chromatism of leaf and sky.
Despite the mosaic of brushstrokes and colors in the upper sections, Monet was less concerned here with recording the effects of light and shadow on Suzanne than with fixing a presence that is at once more permanent and more abstracted. Details of Suzanne's expression and costume are suppressed—not, as in the paintings of the seventies, to better evoke the fleeting instant, but, rather, to simplify and render monumental. Yet, it is the balance of elements here, both sitter and setting worked to the same degree of finish and completion, that is central to the "new endeavor" he described to Duret. Writing to the society portraitist Paul Helleu on August 19, 1887, Monet noted, "I have undertaken figures in the open air that I would like to finish in my own way, like I finish a landscape." In keeping with this, Monet refused to reduce landscape to mere background—something for which he would reproach Renoir in the early nineties—while ensuring that his figures never overpowered or entirely dominated the composition. Suzanne is painted with the same touch and accent as the trees and grass, yet she remains a discrete presence, never simply part of the landscape. It is this decorative equilibrium, deceptively easy at first glance, that was achieved only after much struggle on Monet's part.
Although Monet would have been appalled at the suggestion, he was significantly influenced at this time by the Broadway paintings of a much younger American painter, John Singer Sargent (1856- 1925). Sargent came to paint with Monet at Giverny in the summer of 1887—a visit in June is securely documented, another in August is possible—and his Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood may well show the very site on which The Stroller was painted. As John House has observed, Monet was intensely interested in Sargent's experimentation with figure painting out of doors and would have seen Sargent's most ambitious plein-air painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (The Tate Gallery, London), on display at the Royal Academy, London, in May 1887, when Monet was visiting Whistler there. Although it is generally assumed that Sargent followed Monet in these years—Monet noted to Alice Hoschede in April 1889 that "Sargent ... proceeds by imitating me"—Sargent's Impressionist paintings consistently treat certain themes that appear only sporadically in Monet's canon between 1886 and 1890, where they are new departures for Monet." The conclusion that there was mutual influence is unavoidable: more self-consciously posed, less interested in atmospheric nuance, Sargent's Broadway paintings have the consistency of touch and easy balance of sitter and setting that Monet achieved in The Stroller.
The Stroller is furthermore suggestive of Monet's capacity to refine his art in accordance with the latest developments in the painting of the avant-garde. By the mid-1880s, reaction against Impressionism had led Gauguin and Van Gogh, in particular, to experiment with broadly drawn monumental figures of nonnaturalistic color, resonant with symbolic meaning. The Stroller, with its unusually bold contours and highly patterned surface, shares in the enterprise of a younger generation in seeking to transform the fugitive effects of nature into something immobile, abstracted, and decorative. In an unexpected way, The Stroller is godmother to Van Gogh's Girl in White , painted three years later.
|Institution||The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Medium||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||100.6 x 70.5 cm|