Monday, September 1, 2008

Monet Paints His Dying Wife

Claude Monet, Camille on Her Death Bed, 1879

Claude Monet married Camille Doncieux in 1870.  She became ill with tuberculosis after years of sharing her husband's poverty in 1875.  She died in 1879.  Monet many years later wrote the following account of the genesis of this painting to George Clemenceau.

... One day, when I was at the death bed of a woman who had been and still was very dear to me, I caught myself, my eyes fixed on her tragic forehead, in the act of mechanically analysing the succession of appropriate color gradations which death was imposing on her immobile face.  Tones of blue, of yellow, of grey, what have you?  This is the point I had reached.  Certainly it was natural to wish to record the last image of a woman who was departing forever.  But even before I had the idea of setting down the features to which I was so deeply attached, my organism automatically reacted to the color stimuli, and my reflexes caught me up in spite of myself, in an unconscious operation which was the daily course of my life - just like an animal turning his mill.


  1. That's fascinating. Just this afternoon a parishioner described to me the death of his mother. She was jaundiced until the last little while when her colour turned to the usual rosy-cheeked again. Visual memories are so powerful. Very few can remember the whole progression - let alone paint it.

  2. I don't know.
    I find this painting and its circumstances to be more than a little disturbing.

  3. Considering that he couldn't save her, and the fact that he was a painter after all, he did what he could do. It does seem rather cold, though. People deal with grief in different ways.

  4. This is really very close.... almost too close for comfort. I resonate with Monet's discomfort and yet share a certain perspective. As my mom was dying, I wept like a daughter, but I anointed her, fed her communion, prayed, washed her after she died, and buried her. The two --daughter and priest-- are one, and both were present in their own way....

  5. I read this post this morning. The image and post hung in my imagination all day. It took me all day to find the words and courage to come back and post what I said above....

  6. This post is generating stronger reactions than I had anticipated.
    I frankly find Monet's actions to be cold and unfeeling. I note that even he is shocked by what he has done.

  7. I sat with my mother as she died, too. You think of all sorts of things at times like that, and all kinds of unusual things happen; I'm not surprised that he did things that he was used to doing.

    People do what they do, and we can't control our thoughts; he was at least right by her side. Many aren't.


No anonymous comments will be accepted.
If you wish to say something dissenting or unpleasant, then do so. But, you must identify yourself either with your own name or a fake name. "Anonymous" comments will be deleted without exception.

I stand by my comments. I expect you to do likewise.