Let's start where it all began with a painting from the Fitzwilliam Museum. "If ever you get a case of post-Christmas blues in January," I tell people when we look at it together,
"Come and sit in front of this painting in Gallery 5 and I guarantee you will feel better". Painted in 1886 after Monet had settled in Giverny, it is a joyous reminder of nature's bounty and a glorious depiction of spring.
Monet captures the moment when the orchard is just about to burst into full bloom. The sunshine through the trees casts flickering shadows on the soft grassy glades below. Seated in the foreground is Suzanne Hoschedé, the daughter of Monet's mistress and future wife Alice and his own son, Jean, whose mother, Camille, had sadly died in 1877. They sit together partly encircled in the trunk and bough of a tree, the red of Suzanne's hair ribbon contrasting with the vivid green of the grass to make it appear even brighter.
Look closely at that tree trunk. It is astonishing to see how many different colours Monet used to paint it - yellow, violet, blue, pink and indigo but not a brushstroke of brown in sight. It was this use of colour, amongst other things, that appalled the critics. They accused Monet and his fellow Impressionists of "violettomania" and one commentator described the third Impressionist exhibition of 1877 as having the overall effect of a worm-eaten Roquefort cheese! Now we look at paintings like this with a sense of wonder and appreciation. A reminder in these difficult times of brighter, sunnier days ahead.
Springtime, 1886, Claude Monet (1840–1926) Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 80.6 cm, Bought with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund, 1953, PD.2-1953, © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
All posts written and researched by Sarah Burles, founder of Cambridge Art Tours. The 'Art Lover's Guide to Cambridge' was sent out weekly during the recent Covid 19 lockdown while Cambridge museums, libraries and colleges were closed.