Impressionist painting of Villas at Bordighera by Claude Monet

How Did Monet Escape the Winter Blues?

Note: Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature opens in October 2019. Group tickets are now on sale. Individual ticket sales will be announced at a later date.

March is typically the snowiest month of the year along Colorado’s Front Range, and I would be lying if I said I was not eagerly awaiting the warmer weather of summertime. In fact, as I recently trekked through snow and slush to the museum offices, I began to wonder how Claude Monet dealt with his own winter blues. His trips to Antibes, on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France, and to Bordighera, along the Italian Riviera, immediately came to mind.

As December’s Monet blog post demonstrated, Monet was no stranger to cold and harsh conditions, but he did escape during the winter months of 1884 and 1888 to paint in the sun-drenched Mediterranean towns of Bordighera and Antibes. As we impatiently wait for winter to end, let’s seek solace—and perhaps a vicarious vacation—in a couple of Monet’s paintings from these locations.

Impressionist painting of villas in Bordighera by Claude Monet
Claude Monet, Villas at Bordighera (Les Villas à Bordighera), 1884. Private Collection

Bordighera

Monet had been to Bordighera one time before he returned during the winter of 1884 to paint. He first traveled there in late 1883, on a "tourist trip" with fellow painter Auguste Renoir. While he did not create any artworks on this first visit, upon his return home to Giverny, he wrote to his friend and dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, about his trip and plans for immediate return—his time alone, and specifically without Renoir:

…I’ve decided to leave [again] for Italy straight away. I want to spend a month in Bordighera, one of the most beautiful places we saw on our trip. From there I have great hopes of bringing you a whole new series of paintings. But I would ask you not to mention this trip to anyone, not because I want to make a secret of it, but because I insist upon doing it alone. Much as enjoyed making the trip there with Renoir as a tourist, I’d find it hard to work there together…If he knew I was about to go, Renoir would doubtless want to join me and that would be equally disastrous for both of us. (Letter from Monet to Durand-Ruel, Giverny, 12 Jan 1884)

Initially, Monet intended to return to Bordighera for only three weeks, but he ended up staying there for three months instead. Based on his renderings of the location’s beautiful surroundings, I cannot blame him for extending the visit. The bright blue skies and lush, sun-covered gardens depicted in these canvases provide comfort to anyone wishing to escape the winter cold.

Impressionist painting by Claude Monet of The Fort of Antibes
Claude Monet, The Fort of Antibes (Antibes, le fort), 1888. Private Collection.

Antibes

In January 1888, Monet would return to the Mediterranean, staying in the coastal town of Antibes until May of that same year. During his four-month stay, Monet painted many canvases of the location and its historic surroundings. The Fort of Antibes is one such painting, which will be included in the upcoming exhibition. It is one of my personal favorites. I love how the horizontal brushstrokes of the turquoise sea contrast with those of Alps, whose snow-capped peaks reflect the warm pastels of a setting or rising sun. Sometimes, when I squint my eyes in just the right way, those mountains look like the Rockies, and I can turn to my window and pretend—for just a moment—that I’m there.

We’ll have to wait until October 2019 to see Monet’s Mediterranean paintings in person. I, for one, cannot wait!

Alexander Penn is a former curatorial research assistant in the department of painting and sculpture at the Denver Art Museum.