Weeping willows and the First World War
Weeping Willow (Saule pleureur) (191819)
oil on canvas
100.0 x 100.0 cm
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Gift of Michel Monet, 1966 (inv. 5081)
© Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, © Bridgeman-Giraudon / Presse
Like many of his generation who had witnessed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and violent repression of Paris Communards by government forces in 1871, Monet developed a lifelong aversion to war. However, the First World War, which came close to Monet’s doorstep, led him to modify his position. German forces approached Paris a month after the commencement of hostilities. Monet’s son Michel and stepson Jean-Pierre Hoschedé both enlisted. A makeshift hospital was created at Giverny to which Monet provided vegetables, and he donated many paintings to fundraising efforts for war victims.
Monet read horrifying accounts by soldiers wounded at the Western Front. He also heard firsthand reports of the conflict from Clemenceau, then Minister of War (and, by November 1917, Prime Minister). In 1918 Monet ordered twelve small canvases, of a format he abandoned many years earlier, and created a series of weeping willows on an intimate scale. In these paintings, conceived in homage to the common soldier, Monet recuperated the traditional mournful symbolism of the weeping willow. On 12 November 1918, the day after Armistice, Monet offered a painting from the series to the French state.