As with the majority of Renoir’s artwork, it was painted using the medium of oil on canvas and is in an Impressionist style. Despite the subject matter being of a very calming activity, Madame Monet Reading is actually a remarkably lively and playful painting.
Renoir has used light brush strokes and vibrant colours to really bring the whole scene to life and make it a very inviting, eye-catching piece of artwork. Obviously Renoir was a very experienced painter of women and the warm, slightly amused expression on Madam Monet's face makes this a fun and flattering portrait.
Renoir took a great influence from the famous Italian Renaissance painters of many centuries earlier. Classic artwork such as Annunciation, St John the Baptist and Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci as well as The Last Judgement, Noah's Ark and the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo must surely have been amongst his favourites when travelling around Italy.
The subject of the painting is Camille Monet (born Camille-Léonie Doncieux), who was the model, mistress and then wife of the famous painter, Claude Monet. She initially met him in 1865, when she was 18 and working as a model. He was 7 years older than her, constantly struggling financially and neither of their families approved of the relationship.
Despite their disapproval, her and Claude had one child out of wedlock, Jean in 1867, married in 1870 and then went on to have another child, Michel in 1878. Her health had started to deteriorate before the birth and it continued to get worse afterwards and she died the following year in September 1879.
Camille Monet was not only the muse for many of her husband’s paintings, she also featured in the works of his fellow Impressionist friends, like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Édouard Manet. In the early 1870s these other artists often used to stay with the Monet family when they were living near Paris.
They would regularly paint together; producing artworks with a similar subject matter, but with the artists' own unique twist. During this close collaboration, Monet and Renoir actually both painted Madame Monet reading and also in a garden in Argenteuil. Monet’s portrayal of his own wife is remarkably more sombre than Renoir’s vibrant version. His painting, Meditation, Madame Monet, also shows Camille reclining on a sofa with a book in her hand.
However, in this image she is all dressed in black, appears to have grown tired of the book she is holding and is wistfully gazing into the corner of the room. The striking contrast between the two portraits of the same model, by two different men, adds the suggestion of another level of intrigue to the stories and lives behind the paintings.
Madame Monet Reading was acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark for their private collection in 1933. In 1950 The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (The Clark) in Williamstown, Massachusetts was established as a permanent base for the couple’s art collection and as a centre for art research and education. Madame Monet Reading by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is still on display there today.