Monet’s Au Bord du Fjord, près Christiania (1895)

On a visit to Norway in the 1890's Claude Monet took a sleigh ride out of Oslo (then known as Christiania) across the ice-covered fjord: “At last I finally managed to see the sea”, he wrote to his wife back home. “It’s half an hour away from here; you drive the sleigh over the ice until you get to where the fjord is no longer frozen over. It was marvellous! It was such a pleasure, and gave me a delightful motif with the little snow-covered islands nestling low on the water, with mountains in the background.”1

The old idea, though, that Monet's main desire in his art was to reproduce effects of light is no longer accepted, in part because his own breathless comments about the sea, for instance, suggest a Romantic nature with a feel for the Sublime. Others have linked him to Buddhist ideas on impermanence and the cycle of life.2

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Captions for image(s) above:

Monet, Au Bord du Fjord, près Christiania (1895) Oil on canvas. Private Collection.

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Both views are perhaps correct because Buddha's view of the mind is fairly similar in essence to the little-known principles of esoteric Christianity on which most, if not all, of Western art's masterpieces are secretly based including those from the Romantic period. Either might end up as this picture.3 All we can say for certain is that, as in his later series of paintings of Rouen cathedral and that of his wife in their garden in 1876, Monet like earlier artists painted his mind. In this image he transformed distant snow-covered mountains into his eyes and nose and placed the silhouette of his head and beard flat on the sea. You see him as though from below his beard as he looks up at the immensity of the sky. [Note: His head is tilted more upwards in the painting than the photograph.] The sea and land reflecting the immensity of the sky is his mind's surface. Below the water and the hills is his subconscious. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Monet's Au Bord du Fjord, près Christiania (1895)
Bottom: Nadar, Photograph of Monet, detail distorted (1901)

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Monet even spoke in such terms. He told his more scientifically-inclined friend, the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau: "When one is on the plane of concordant appearances, one cannot be very far from reality, or at least from what we can know of it....Your error is to wish to reduce the world to your measure, whereas if you increase your knowledge of things, you will find your knowledge of yourself will expand."4

Captions for image(s) above:

Monet, Au Bord du Fjord, près Christiania (1895)

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Notes:

1. Marianne Alphant, Claude Monet in Norway (Paris: Fernand Hazan) 1994, p.44

2. Jacquelynn Baas, Smile of the Buddha: Eastern Philosophy and Western Art from Monet to Today (Berkeley: University of California Press) 2005, pp. 19-25; Steven Z. Levine, "Seascapes of the Sublime: Vernet, Monet, and the Oceanic Feeling", New Literary History 16, Winter 1985, pp. 390, 398.  

3. See the theme Inner Tradition.

4. Georges Clemenceau, Claude Monet: Les Nymphéas (Paris: Plon) 1928, pp. 101-2

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