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Rouen Cathedral, Façade

Claude Monet, 1894
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown


An acquaintance of Monet admired his Rouen Cathedral series:

“His studies of the Rouen Cathedral give us few architectural details, but we receive from them the same awe-inspiring impression that overpowers us when the vision of its sublime loveliness first bursts upon us. What [John] Ruskin,* through his marvelous word-painting conveys to us of these medieval cathedrals, Monet gives us in his color-poems. That is the great gift of this man’s genius – to catch, not the form alone, but the spirit of all he paints….In this lies his great contribution to modern art. He has gone one step in advance along the path that leads to the comprehension and representation of the psychological truths of nature.”

*John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a British art critic and a friend of Joseph Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites.

Anna Seaton Schmidt, “An Afternoon with Claude Monet,” Modern Art, vol. 5, no. 1 (Winter 1897): 34.


Grace Seiberling discusses the subject of Rouen Cathedral in the broader context of his work:

“Rouen Cathedral is an exceptional subject in Monet’s oeuvre. A building isolated from its landscape context, seen close up, had never been painted before by Monet, and would only appear again in paintings of Venice. Furthermore, the subject itself raises questions; a gothic cathedral suggests at once religious and cultural associations. Monet was not a religious person, and had no part in the religious revival of the end of the century. Furthermore, there is no evidence that he had an antiquarian interest in architecture.”

Yet at the same time,

“In choosing a consistent motif, isolated from its context, Monet extended the kind of limitation which he had imposed upon himself in the previous series. He had presented haystacks in an indeterminate landscape, and made poplars their own background….Like the subjects of Monet’s other series, the cathedral was a condensation of a type which had appeared in his earlier work. In the sixties, he had painted the Church of the Calvary at Honfleur….Eight paintings from 1882 show the church at Varengeville in a landscape. However, the closest precedent for the paintings of Rouen Cathedral in Monet’s work are views of the church at Vétheuil from 1878.”

Grace Seiberling, Monet’s Series (New York-London: Garland Publishing, 1981), 136-7 & 137-9.

Other Artists Representing Rouen Cathedral:

Joseph Turner, Rouen: the West Front of the Cathedral, c. 1832. Bodycolor on blue paper (Tate, London)

Roger Fenton, Rouen Cathedral, 1858

Other Artists Representing Cathedrals:

Camille Corot, Chartres Cathedral, 1830

John Constable, Salisbury Cathedral Seen from the Meadows, 1831

Web Resources:

smarthistory on Kahn Academy: Monet’s Rouen Cathedral Series


About the Artist

Born: Paris, 14 November 1840
Died: Giverny, 6 December 1926
Nationality: French