Putting Monet and Rembrandt into Words: Pierre Loti's Recreation and Theorization of Claude Monet's Impressionism and Rembrandt's Landscapes in Literature

Putting Monet and Rembrandt into Words: Pierre Loti's Recreation and Theorization of Claude Monet's Impressionism and Rembrandt's Landscapes in Literature

Putting Monet and Rembrandt into Words: Pierre Loti's Recreation and Theorization of Claude Monet's Impressionism and Rembrandt's Landscapes in Literature

Putting Monet and Rembrandt into Words: Pierre Loti's Recreation and Theorization of Claude Monet's Impressionism and Rembrandt's Landscapes in Literature

Synopsis

Claude Monet was not only the creator of what we now view as French Impressionist painting, he was also its last major practitioner. By the time he passed away in 1926, he had outlived all the other painters--Renoir, Morisot, Pissarro, Sisley, and the others whom we now group together under that heading. Yet when Andre Suares, one of the four directors--along with Gide, Valery, and Claudel--of the influential Nouvelle Revue Francaise, summed up the movement that year, he did not give Monet pride of place. Rather, he wrote, "Far more than Sisley, Claude Monet, or the Goncourt brothers, Loti was the great Impressionist."

As this shows, that Pierre Loti, the once world-renowned French novelist, developed a remarkably Impressionist style was recognized early on. It continues to be acknowledged in France today. Franck Ferrand, a contemporary historian known for his appearances on French radio and television, recently wrote that "Pierre Loti [is] the only truly impressionist writer of French literature." Yet while those who know his work in France continue to see him as an Impressionist artist on the level of Monet and Renoir, no one has ever asked how he achieved this in literature, how he went about creating novels that resembled the work of Monet.

That is the subject of this book. Examining certain of Loti's important novels, this study shows how he managed to reproduce with words what Monet was doing in oils. It also shows how the author came to theorize about the effects of Impressionism on the reader-viewer. Finally, it demonstrates how and why, in one of his last novels, Loti undertook to reproduce the style of one of the painters most admired by Monet: Rembrandt van Rijn, whom the nineteenth-century French rediscovered in part because they could present his sketchy biography as a demonstration of many of the things liberal art historians and painters believed the ideal artist should be.

Excerpt

Far more than Sisley, Claude Monet or the Goncourt
brothers, Loti was the great Impressionist.

André Suarès, co-founder of La nouvelle revue française

Pierre Loti [is] the only truly impressionist writer of
French literature.

Franck Ferrand, French historian and radio personality

Writing on Pierre Loti’s work is full of remarks such as those in the epigraphs above, sentences that describe the author as an impressionist but never explain why. These statements never address the two questions they raise: first, what did their writers mean by impressionism, and second, in what ways are Loti’s works impressionist as they understand the term? the fact that the remark has been made repeatedly, from Loti’s time to our own, suggests that there is something about the author’s work that merits the adjective, but what? For the general public, the audience for whom most of these authors wrote, “impressionist” and “impressionism” evoke the work of a group of French artists who painted in the last four decades of the nineteenth and first two of the twentieth centuries. Even when referring to the works of those painters the term has taken on several meanings, however, and their number has increased as it has been applied to literature as well.

The term “impressionist” was first used in reference to painting in a review published in the April 25 issue of the satiric journal Le . . .

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