A Review of Daniel Wilderstein’s Monet (or the Triumph of Impressionism)

Seascape, Night Effect (1866).

Seascape, Night Effect (1866).

Daniel Wilderstein’s Monet, or the Triumph of Impressionism is a work that fails to distinguish itself from other works in the field.  Like many monographs from the Taschen line, it has beautiful reproductions of a number of Claude Monet’s works and a plethora of biographical information dealing with both Monet’s personal and business life.  The work is flawed in many respects though.  It fails to offer any sort of overview of the critical response since Monet’s death, or the significance of the break from classic painting.  What is the purpose of the approach Money adopted?

 

Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge (1897).

Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge (1897).

Where did he gather his inspiration?  There is also a lack of an emotive portrait of Monet.  Wilderstein offers biographical information, but one does not have a clear understanding of the connection between either Monet and his first wife, Camille, or his second, Alice.  Wilderstein mentions in passing that Alice had Monet destroy all the letters from Camille after her death, but does not explore this.  Why would Monet allow this?  Why would Alice demand it?  Also lacking is a full exploration into the birthing of the relationship between Alice, who was married to a patron of Monet’s.  The monographs notes that Monet destroyed a number of his own paintings as he was not satisfied with them, but there is not exploration as to what made them inferior in Monet’s eyes.  It is said that he was unhappy with them, but does not say why.  What was his reasoning?  Such things are of a personal matter, and this is an academic work, so it is perhaps unfair to expect such details, but if the academic work focuses strictly on biographical information and deals little with critical response, other than to detail who did and didn’t ‘like’ Monet’s work, then it has to offer something beyond thr biographical information which can be summarized adequately by Wikipedia.

 

 

Woman With Parasol

Woman With Parasol

What the book is filled with is prices that were paid for Monet’s paintings and his annual salaries, as well as beautiful reproductions of his work.  As to the salaries, there are not the least bit interesting, and even if they were they are in accessible.  Wilderstein rattles off sums, which sound, even by today’s standards, like a great deal of money, but speaks to Monet’s seeming poverty early in his life (even though he has enough money to afford servants).  The sums Wilderstein shares though have no context.  We do not know if 820 francs is a lot.  How much is that in today’s currency?  How many euros is that? Or pounds?  Or American dollars?  How many chickens could that buy?  And why does anybody care how much money Monet made?  Sure, it is interesting to hear how much a painting fetches at auction when it sets a record, but to hear the prices paid for literally scores of paintings which all get around 1000 francs (give or take 200 francs) gets more than a little boring.  Hearing how many paintings he had in a show and how much they sold for compared to his contemporaries is only stimulating to those interested in having a pissing match about such details.  The monograph would have been better served to exclude the excessive inclusion of numbers that make the book read more like an almanac than an academic work in favour of including critic responses, and by critical responses I mean something other than mentioning which critics raved about how great the work was and which raved about how awful it was.

 

London Parliament At Sunset

London Parliament At Sunset

As for the reproductions, though they meet the high quality I have come to expect from books in the Taschen collection, I have never seen images presented in such a disorganized manner.  Typically such images are organized in one of several ways.  Such images may appear chronologically in the biographically-based text and alphabetically in the index with page numbers attached both to their title in the index, and in parenthesis in in-text citations.  This makes it easy for the reader to find the image.  If the page number the image being referenced isn’t in the in-text citation, then all one need do is simply look the painting up alphabetically in the index to find the page.  Another option is to assign each image a number with 1 given to the first painting that appears, 2 assigned to the next and so

 

Monet and his fucking haystacks!

Monet and his fucking haystacks!

on.  When the paintings are mentioned, the number that corresponds is included in parenthesis and all the reader has to do is look that number up in the index to see what page it is on, or flip through the pages as the images are in numerical order.  Neither method was employed for this monograph.  Instead, images are assigned seemingly random numbers.  One painting on an early page may have a higher numerical value than the number assigned an image later in the book, or vice versa.  There is simply no order.  One would normally turn to the index for assistance in such a case, but the index offers not help as it simply lists the assigned numbers in the order they appear, so when a title has a number behind it, one has to scour through the index looking for the corresponding number.  One would assumed that the numbers would be in numerical order, but they are not, simply in the order in which they appear.  This makes it tedious to find a work that the author is referencing.  Why they couldn’t simply put the page number the image appears on in parenthesis for in-text citation and list them either alphabetically or numerically in the index is beyond me, but the option which the editors chose for this edition is beyond perplexing.

 

 

 

monet32The prose is dull, the information is tedious and the images are completely unorganized.  Considering the esteem Monet has and the fact that Taschen made this monograph much longer than most of its other books for individual painters, I’m surprised that so little effort seems to go into this.  Also missing is an exploration of Monet’s ecocritical perspective.  At a time when many were still doing portraits, Monet stepped away from that trend and alienated buyers to focus on nature and uplift nature through his landscape paintings.  Though this is referenced in the monograph several times, neither the reasons for this choice, nor the implications of it are explored.  Yes, it is mentioned that Monet loved nature and thought it beautiful, but Wilderstein does not explore why Monet felt this way.  The images are beautiful to look at, but the book is a disappointment.

 

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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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