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The hazards of painting en plein air (outdoors)

Claude MONET
Rough weather at Étretat (1883)

Monet had a strong work ethic and a robust constitution. On painting ‘campaigns’ he often got up at 6am, started work at 8am and didn’t return to his lodgings until 7pm. On his many sojourns to the Normandy coast, he liked to hike along isolated cliff-top paths to reach certain vantage points and he would gamely scramble down to the small rocky ledges along the base of the cliffs to get close to the sea. Once, painting the sea at Étretat, Monet failed to notice the incoming tide: suddenly engulfed by a large wave, the artist, his canvas, brushes, palette and paint were flung against the cliff. Monet emerged soaked and unharmed, with paint in his beard where his palette had hit him, but his canvas and materials were swept away.

When you visit Monet’s Garden compare the paintings Rough weather at Étretat and Cliff and the Porte d’Amont, morning effect  – they both show the same view of the cliffs near Étretat but in vastly different conditions. In one, Monet has captured the icy wind and the wild waves breaking against the beach on a wintry day and in the other he has risen early to paint the still atmosphere of early dawn.