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This is the fourth issue of Voices From the Past. My goal for each issue is to publish some highlights of one of my historical stories as well as an update on my activities. Please feel free to forward this e-newsletter to anyone you think might be interested.
Painters and Friends: Stories of Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent
These men are two of my favorite painters because they loved to paint sunlight. Two years ago I researched and created a story on Claude Monet. Much to my delight, when I was researching John Singer Sargent this year, I found out that they were friends. While I have created longer stories about each of these men (each with a Power Point display so people can see their paintings while I am talking about them), here's a brief story about their friendship.
They met at the Second Impressionists Exhibit in Paris in 1876. (The Impressionists had to have their own exhibits since the Salon, the official art exhibit of the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, refused to display their paintings.)
At this time, John Singer Sargent was 20 years old, a second year student at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, over 6’ tall, with a sturdy build and wearing the proper dress of the day.
Claude Monet was 36 years old, a starving artist, with a compact frame, and wearing a shirt with ruffled cuffs.
Sargent was thrilled to be in the same room with Monet. He eventually screwed up his courage and went up to the older man and said, “Is it really you, Claude Monet?” Monet replied, “Oui, c’est moi.” [“Yes, I am he.”] The two started talking. Sargent said, “Let’s have dinner together at the Café de la Paix.” Monet responded, “Let’s go to the Café du Helder instead.” So that’s where they went. When they arrived, Monet suggested that they sit in a particular room. But when they sat down, Monet realized that several of his paintings were on display in that room. He later said, “I was quite ashamed that Sargent would be thinking that I had suggested this café because my paintings were on display here.”
Sargent did not think any less of Monet for that. In fact, this was the beginning of their 50 year friendship.
They were very different men: Sargent was a portrait painter whose works were frequently displayed at the Salon, and he was wealthy by the time he was 30. Monet’s works were not appreciated until he was 50, when he was finally able to buy his first house. Sargent loved light as much as Impressionists but he never forgot the objects he was painting. Unlike Monet who once said,
“I wish I had been born blind and then could suddenly see. Then I would naturally just paint the colors, and not be distracted by the objects in front of me.”
Sargent was a good friend to Monet. He visited Monet at Giverny at least twice. When he was 29, he painted Monet painting there in1885. After Sargent moved to London, whenever Monet visited there, Sargent encouraged his clients to meet with Monet, and to buy his paintings. Sargent himself bought four of Monet’s paintings. Here is a letter 32 year-old Sargent wrote to Monet in1888:
It is with great difficulty that I tear myself away from your delightful painting to tell you again how much I admire it. I sit in front of it for hours at a time in a state of enchantment. I am delighted to have in my home such a source of pleasure.
I am sending to you what I should have sent to you a long time ago. If you have trouble getting money, the bankers at such-and-such a bank know my signature. [I believe that Sargent was agreeing to co-sign any loans Monet might need.]
Dear Monet, I thank you and I love you. As an artist, I worship you.
John S. Sargent
PS I am not tipsy.”
Years later, Sargent wrote that Monet’s perception of light and its effects on objects “added a new perception to Artists in the same way that man who invented perspective added a new perception to Artists.”
When Monet was asked to comment on Sargent’s praise, he said, “I am very proud of his praise, but he has made me greater than I am. I only have the merit of painting directly in front of nature while searching to render my impressions of extremely transient effects.”
Their friendship continued for many years, only ending with Sargent ’s death, when he was 69. Monet subsequently wrote to a mutual friend:
“We have lost an old friend. It is truly a sad day.”
So the next time you see a painting by Monet or Sargent, I hope you’ll remember their friendship as well as their extraordinary skills as painters.
some links to more information about Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent, including a link to a new exhibit on Monet, currently at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
What I’ve Been Doing
Recently after I told World War II stories at Coburg Village retirement community, my hostess said, "You must meet Vera Lister. She worked at Bletchly Park in England during the war." I got very excited -- I knew a bit about the intelligence work done at Bletchly Park, including the creation of some very early computers, since my first career was in the computer industry. I met Vera and she agreed to be interviewed by me. What an honor for me.
And what a wealth of experiences Vera went through during the war. The first German bomb to explode on English soil exploded in her home town. She married a man in the Royal Navy who died when his submarine was hit. She then joined the Royal Navy herself as a Wren, working at Bletchly Park, then at a port where she met an American sailor. They spent the next four nights dating, and the rest of the war writing to each other. After the war, he invited her to America, to see if she'd like living there. "I did," said Vera and she's lived here ever since. Now I need to transform her interview into a story, or perhaps two stories, one focusing on her, and the other focusing on the work at Bletchly Park.
Good news -- I submitted an application for
Dance Flurry 2008 last Thursday and heard back the same day that they'd like me to do a storytelling performance for adults (either "Remember When: Stories and Songs from World War II" or "The Lilt of Irish Laughter: Stories and Songs from Ireland") and another for children ("Shrieks, Squeaks, and Growls: Participation Stories from Around the World.") I'm looking forward to telling there again - what an energetic group of folks.
Thanks for reading this issue. I’ll be sending you some more story highlights in a few month.
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Copyright 2007 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.