Choppy waters on a fresh even windy day set the scene here in Claude Monet’s The Cliffs at Étretat, where the picturesque and the sublime seem to collide in this 1885 painting of the coast of Normandy in north-western France.
The picturesque, in the sense of rough irregularity, is present in the landforms themselves, the sea arch protruding from the cliff on the right and the lone sea stack to the left that the painter crowns with a halo of light.
The sublime is emphasized by both the viewpoint of the picture – we are overwhelmed by the proximity of the cliffs at which we look up – and the diminutive size of the sailboats in the background. Again, Monet’s obsession with the play of light on water is apparent.
Claude Monet’s The Cliffs at Étretat is in the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.