Claude Monet painted this lifesize portrait of his wife, Camille, in 1876. The work was exhibited at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. It was well accepted by the public and could be sold to a collector. Later Claude Monet would call the painting a heap of trash.
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The painting is the reflection of a trendy craze for Japanese culture and art, which was dominant in France from about 1865 until the end of the century. This Japonisme, as it was called, had captured artists and a wide public alike. Claude Monet was among the Impressionist painters who admired Japanese art, and especially Japanese woodblock prints.
The image shows Madame Claude Monet dressed in an elaborate kimono, holding a Japanese fan in her hand. She wears a blond wig. Her kimono is lavishly embroidered and the background is decorated with numerous Japanese fans. Such items could then be bought for a few pennies in many shops in Paris. Even the big department stores had special sections for Japanese items.
Who was this woman posing as La Japonaise?
Camille Doncieux was still in her teens, when Monet met her around 1865. She was of humble origins and worked as a model - an attractive, intelligent girl with dark hair and wonderful eyes. Claude Monet was a poor painter at that time. Camille became his girlfriend, mistress and model.
The couple lived in depressing poverty. In 1867 Camille Doncieux gave birth to the couple's first son, Jean. Claude's father refused to take her into the family because of her modest origins. But on June 28, 1870 Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux get married in a civil ceremony.
In 1877 Camille gave birth to her second son, Michel. Soon Camille's health deteriorated - to some sources as a result of a malpracticed abortion, to others she had cancer. On Septemper 5, 1879 Camille died at the age of 32.
Monet had not always treated her well and probably had started a relationship with another woman, Alice Hoschede, while still being married to Camille. But he was deeply shocked at Camille's death. Claude painted her a last time - at her deathbed. The portrait belongs to the collection of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
Author: Dieter Wanczura