New exhibition in Paris reveals the importance of Claude Monet’s forgotten older brother

A landmark new exhibition will shed light on Claude Monet’s brother and his impact on the Impressionist movement.

Leon Monet – Claude’s senior by four years – has been largely overlooked by history, yet is considered to have been a crucial influence on his brother.

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

“It was never known before, but without Léon there really wouldn’t have been a Monet – the artist the world knows today,” said Geraldine Lefebvre, exhibition curator at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.

“His rich big brother supported him in the early part of his life when he had no money or customers and was hungry,” he said. “But more than that. The vibrant palette for which Monet was famous came from synthetic fabric dye colors Leon was created” in the city of Rouen – site of some of Claude’s best-known paintings.

The ground-breaking exhibit is the fruit of years of research by Lefebvre, who visited Monet’s great-grandchildren, studied family albums and unearthed a masterful portrait of Leon by Claude that Leon had hidden in a dusty private collection and had never seen before. the public. The 1874 painting shows Leon in a black suit, stern expression and red – almost flushed – cheeks.

The exhibit dispels a long-held view that Claude and his older brother were estranged.

A portrait of Leon Monet painted by his brother Claude

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A portrait of Leon Monet painted by his brother Claude

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“Historians have always believed that the two brothers were not related to each other. There are supposed to be no photos of Claude and Leon together, no correspondence. In fact, they were incredibly close throughout their lives,” Lefebvre said.

The brothers had a falling out in the early 1900s and this may explain why there are no direct traces of the relationship. “Maybe Leon got off the mark, 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 wined and dined his younger brother, introduced him to other artists, gave him money, and would patronize his art — buying it at auction at high prices to boost his reputation.

“One of the problems was because they shared the last name and it looked like (Claude) Monet was buying back his own pictures. But it was Leon,” said Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Gallery of Scotland.

“This exhibition is important as it sheds light on Leon Monet, who until now has been an invisible figure. It also reveals the wider network at work. Leon was a key figure,” added Fowle.

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

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

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Léon’s influence extended beyond his brother: He financially supported other Impressionists such as Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley – some of whom connected around his table in Rouen, where the wine flowed freely. Claude followed his brother to Rouen, where he painted his masterpieces in Rouen Cathedral.

Monet also worked for his older brother as an assistant colourist, a pivotal moment not only in his life – but possibly in the emergence of Impressionism as we know it.

Leon would dissolve carbon to create a chemical called aniline, which created incredible synthetic colors that natural pigments couldn’t compete with. One of the earlier examples of Léon’s color filtering in Monet’s art comes from an illustration from the 1860s – before he was famous – featured in the exhibition. Monet painted his future wife Camille in a dress of eye-popping green he had never seen before.

“The French press coined the term ‘Green Monet,'” Lefebvre said, adding that reporters initially mocked him. “At the time, they said he would make a good painter.”

A painting pallet belonging to Claude Monet

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A painting palette belonging to Claude Monet

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However, both Monets had the last laugh.

Claude Monet founded Impressionism – a term coined by his 1872 painting “Impression, Sunrise” – to become one of the most famous painters of the last two centuries. And at the height of Impressionism in the late 19th century, a whopping “80% of all Impressionist works” used synthetic colors borrowed from Leon, according to Lefebvre.

These synthetic hues, which were cutting edge at the time, allowed the team members to depict the fleeting impression of the moment with changing colors and brightness.

“Who knows the exact extent of the impact Leon had on the movement?” Lefebvre said with a shy smile. “But it was excellent.”

“Leon Monet. Brother of the artist and collector” runs at the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris from March 15 to July 16.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

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