Wednesday 28 December 2011

Claude Monet - caricatures

Claude Monet is of course famous for being one of the founders of The Impressionist movement. His water lily paintings will be familiar to everybody. Less well known is that fact that as a teenager his first forays into art were through caricature portraits.
On November 14, 1840, two days after the birth of Rodin, Claude-Oscar Monet was born in Paris, Rue Laffitte. The family moved in 1845 to Le Havre, in Normandy, where Monet's father, entering into partnership with his brother-in-law, Monsieur Lecadre, hoped to make a fresh start in the grocery business.

In Monet’s own words: "At fifteen I was known all over Le Havre as a caricaturist. My reputation was so well established that from all sides people came to me and pestered me for caricatures. I had so many requests, and the pocket money my mother could spare me was so meager, that I was led to take a bold step, one which needless to say shocked my parents: I started selling my portraits. Sizing up my customer, I charged ten or twenty francs a caricature, and it worked like a charm. Within a month my clientele had doubled. Had I gone on like that I'd be a millionaire today. Soon I was looked up to in the town, I was 'somebody'. In the shop-window of the one and only framemaker who could eke out a livelihood in Le Havre, my caricatures were impudently displayed, five or six abreast, in beaded frames or behind glass like very fine works of art, and when I saw troops of bystanders gazing at them in admiration, pointing at them and crying 'Why, that's so-and-so!', I was just bursting with pride."

When Boudin saw Monet's caricatures, he realized that the youngster had genuine talent. He made inquiries about him in the shop and the frame-maker tried to arrange a meeting between them. But Monet showed no interest and even went out of his way to avoid Boudin until one day by chance, they ran into each other at the frame-maker's. The shopkeeper seized the opportunity and introduced them.

"Boudin came over at once and started talking to me in his soft voice, saying nice things about my work: 'I like your sketches, they're very amusing, very neatly done. You're gifted, anybody can see that. But you're not going to stop there, I hope. This is all right for a start, but you'll soon have had your fill of caricature. You want to buckle down and study hard, learn to see and paint, go out and sketch, do some landscapes. What beauty there is in the sea and sky, in animals, people and trees, just as nature made them, just as they are, with a character of their own, with a life of their own in the light and air of nature.' But Boudin's advice was lost on me. As for the man himself, I couldn't help liking him. He meant what he said, he was sincere all right, I felt that. But I couldn't stomach his painting, and whenever he offered to take me out sketching with him in the open country, I always had some pretext or other for a polite refusal. Summer came, my time was more or less my own, I could hardly put him off any longer. So to get it over with I gave in and Boudin, with unfailing kindness, took me in hand. In the end my eyes were opened and I gained a real understanding of nature, and a real love of her as well."

c1854 Auguste Vacquerie 
graphite on paper 28 x 18 cm

c1855-6 Caricature of a Man 
graphite and chalk on paper 24 x 14 cm

c1855-6 Caricature of a Man with a Large Nose 
graphite on paper 25 x 15 cm

c1855-6 Caricature of Léon Manchon 
charcoal and chalk on paper 61 x 45 cm

c1855-6 Caricature of Man Standing by Desk 
graphite on paper 20 x 17 cm

c1855-6 Man with a Big Cigar 
conte crayon and pastel on paper 60 x 38 cm

c1855-6 Mario Uchard 
graphite on paper 32 x 24 cm

c1855-6 The Man in the Small Hat 
graphite on paper 20 x 15 cm

c1858 Caricature of a man with the snuff box

c1858 Caricature of Rufus Croutinelli 
graphite on paper 8 x 13 cm

1859 Caricature of my friend Dermit

c1860 Caricature of Jules Didier 
charcoal and chalk on paper 67 x  44 cm

Caricature of a Scotsman with a Pipe

Caricature of a Woman with a Bad Arm

Caricature of a Young Man

Caricature of a Young Women at the Piano

Caricature of Actors

Caricature of Jules Husson

Caricature of Philibert Audebrand

Caricature of The Hunter and his Dog in a Boat


  1. Thank you for this. I just visited the Frick museum in New York City for a show of Impressionist drawings from the Clark Institute and in the exhibit was the caricature of the man with the big nose holding the snuff box which you show on this page. It was so unlike anything I've ever seen by Monet and for him to have been doing this as a teenager is truly remarkable. It's always wonderful to find out something new about a great artist. Thanks again.
    Andy Ginsberg

  2. Thanks for looking, appreciate the comments.

  3. Ha, i loved looking at these , even at fifteen one can see the raw talent. I wonder if he had stayed as a cartoonist would he have drifted in to painting or stayed in newspapers?

  4. Yes, I think he was a very good caricaturist, probably the David Levine of his day.


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