Break-up of the ice on the Seine, near Bennecourt by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Monet was the founder of French Impressionist painting and his style defined the movement. Impressionism was a term coined by a journalist using the title from one of Monet’s first works and was intended to be disparaging and dismissive. The combination of broad brush strokes and everyday subject matter contrasted heavily with the more formal painting styles of the early nineteenth century, and led critics to call this work a mere impression rather than a finished work.

Break-up of the ice on the Seine, near Bennecourt

Monet sought to capture the changing effects of light on landscapes and would frequently capture the same scenes at different times of the day or even different times of the year. As an aid to authenticity, he pioneered the painting of subjects en plein air, or outside; a task made much easier by the development of ready mixed oil paints. Known mainly for his paintings of the lily pond and Chinese bridge in the extensive gardens of his house at Giverny in Northern France, Monet was equally intrigued by all landscapes whether natural or man-made.

This picture was painted in 1893 and shows the River Seine close to Monet’s home. It is one of a series of views of the frozen Seine painted during a particularly severe winter, so severe that Monet is on record as having complained about the bitter coldness while he worked. Although despite the majority of the work being conducted out of doors, Monet would almost certainly have added the finishing touches from the relative comfort of his studio.

On the river the ice is beginning to break and to float downstream, but the overriding impression is one of coldness and of winter.  Monet uses a limited palette, focussing principally on very cold colours. Yet, despite the effect of desolation and bleakness, there is a compelling beauty and serenity to this work.

This painting can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EL. The gallery is open daily and admission is free.


Why you should see this painting:

Monet was a master of the art of capturing light, as this wintery landscape demonstrates. The sense of impending rain and an icy cold air makes us thankful to be warm and indoors and hopeful for brighter, warmer weather.


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