A new Paris exhibition reveals the importance of Claude Monet’s forgotten older brother

A new history exhibition will highlight Claude Monet’s brother and his influence on the Impressionist movement.

Léon Monet – Claude’s eldest by four years – has been largely ignored by history, yet it is understood that he had a decisive influence on his brother.

Lyon was a color chemist who is credited with the famous color palette that created such masterpieces as Claude’s “Water Lilies” series.

“He was unknown before, but without Leon there really would have been no Monet – the artist the world knows today,” said Geraldine Lefebvre, curator at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.

She said, “His rich older brother supported him in the early period of his life when he had no money or clients and was starving. But more than that. The vivid color palette for which Monet is famous came from the colors of the synthetic textile dye of Lyon. Created” in the city of Rouen – The location of some of Claude’s most famous paintings.

The pioneering exhibition is the fruit of years of investigation by Lefebvre, who visited Monet’s great-great-grandchildren, studied family albums and brought to light a remarkable portrait of Léon by Claude that Léon hid in a dusty private collection and had never been seen before. The audience. The 1874 painting shows Leon in a black suit, stern expression, and red cheeks—almost flushed with wine.

The show dispels a long held view that Claude and his older brother are estranged.

Portrait of Leon Monet painted by his brother Claude

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Historians have always believed that the two brothers had nothing to do with each other. There were supposedly no photos of Claude and Leon together, no correspondence. In fact, they’ve been incredibly close their entire lives,” Lefebvre said.

The brothers had an argument in the early 20th century and this may explain why there are no direct traces of the relationship. “Maybe Leon got rid of the traces, maybe it was Claude. Maybe it was jealousy. We’ll never know. It’s a mystery,” Lefebvre said.

What is now known is that Leon would drink and dine for his younger brother, introduce him to other artists, give him money, and patronize his art—and buy it at auction at high prices to enhance his reputation.

“One of the problems was because they shared the surname (Claude) Monet seemed to be buying his own pictures. But it was Lyon,” said Professor Francis Fowle, chief curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland.

“This exhibition is important because it sheds light on Léon Monet, who was hitherto an unseen figure. It also reveals the broader web at work. Léon was a key figure,” Fowle added.

Portraits of Leon Monet, left, and his brother Claude Monet

(Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Léon’s influence surpassed his brother’s: he financially supported other Impressionists like Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley—some of whom would call around the dinner table in Rouen, where the wine flowed freely. Claude followed his brother to Rouen, where he painted masterpieces for Rouen Cathedral.

Monet also worked with his older brother as an assistant colorist, a pivotal moment not only in his life – but perhaps in the rise of Impressionism as we know it.

Leon dissolves carbon to produce a chemical called aniline, which produces incredible synthetic colors that natural dyes can’t compete with. An earlier example of The Color of Lion being nominated to Monet’s art is from an illustration from the 1860s—before he was famous—that appeared in the exhibition. Monet painted his future wife Camille in an eye-catching green dress he had never seen before.

“The French press coined the term ‘Monet Green,’” Lefebvre said, adding that journalists were making fun of him at first. “At the time, they said he would be a good dyeing artist.”

A drawing board belonging to Claude Monet

(Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

However, it was Monet who had the last laugh.

Claude Monet established Impressionism—a term derived from his 1872 painting Impression, Sunrise—to become one of the most popular painters of the past two centuries. At the height of Impressionism at the end of the 19th century, “80% of all Impressionists’ work” used artificial colors borrowed from Lyon, according to Lefebvre.

These synthetic forms, which were sophisticated for the time, enabled the group members to depict the fleeting impression of a moment with shifting colors and radiance.

“Who knows the exact extent of Leon’s influence on movement? But it was extraordinary,” said Lefebvre with a shy smile.

Leon Monet. “Brother of the Artist and Collector” at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris from March 15th to July 16th.

Additional reporting from the Associated Press

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