And there is no doubt that if you were used to seeing highly finished classical paintings, built layer by layer from detailed drawings, Monet’s effort would come across as little more than the most preparatory of preparatory sketches.
It is certainly not his greatest work (I’d go for his Haystack series), nor the epitome of Impressionism, but it does contain all the elements that would make the movement famous: the staccato brushstrokes, the modern subject (a working port), the prioritizing of the effects of light over any pictorial detail, and the overriding sense that here is a painting that is to be experienced and not just looked at.
That is what Monet had intended, as he explained unnecessarily to his friends in the café once he had recovered his composure.
By this time Alfred Sisley had joined the group. ‘Claude,’ Sisley said mischievously, taking Degas’s copy of Le Charivari, ‘would you like to hear what the fool has to say about Cézanne’s work?’ ‘Yes, why not,’ replied Monet, with a little devilment.
‘Well,’ said Sisley, ‘he has this to say about Paul’s Modern Olympia [1873–4]: “Do you remember Olympia by M. Manet? Well, that was a masterpiece of drawing, accuracy, finish, compared with the one by M. Cézanne.”
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.