Woman with a Parasol, 1875
The Stroll, Camille Monet and Her Son Jean (Woman with a Parasol)
Oil on canvas
100 x 81 cm (39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This masterpiece epitomizes the Impressionist concept of “the glance”. It triumphs wonderfully in conveying the sensation of a snapshot in time, a stroll on a beautiful sunny day. The brushwork, feathery splashes of pulsating color, is critical in establishing this feeling of spontaneity. The portrayal of sunlight and wind also contributes to the movement in the scene. It is difficult to tell where the wispy clouds end and the wind-blown scarf of Mrs. Monet begins. The spiraling folds of her dress are a physical embodiment of the breeze that can be discerned fluttering across the canvas. The sunlight, coming from the right, provides a vigorous opposition to the wind blowing from the left. The wind and sun coalesce to form a swirling vortex in the center of the canvas, beginning with the bent grass blades and twisting through the white highlights at the back of the dress to the tip of the parasol. A singular aspect of the painting is the strong upward perspective. The view from below succeeds in silhouetting the figures against the sky, which intensifies the dynamic effect of sun and light. By depicting his son only from the waist up, Monet imparts a sense of depth to the setting. If this figure is covered up, the picture flattens to the extent that Mrs. Monet appears to be walking a grass tightrope, with the parasol now required to maintain her balance. Once Monet has outlined his figures precariously against the sky, he then anchors them firmly with color and line. The green underside of the parasol binds forcefully with the green of the hillside. The strong line of the handle leads the eye up to the green of the parasol and then, like a lightning rod, pulls the viewer back to the corresponding green of the grassy hillside. Shadows in the grass continue to draw the eye until it is anchored at the bottom of the canvas. Monet has achieved an exhilarating contrast between the swirling wind, clouds and light and the solid foundation of the hillside, with the figure of Mrs. Monet connecting the two.