Luncheon on the Grass Analysis
One of Claude Monet’s most famous paintings, Luncheon on the Grass represents a picnic in the green attended by fashionably dressed middle-class Parisians. A great white blanket has been laid on the grass and a true lunch, comprising soup, chicken, bread, fruits, and wine, has been disposed of.
A woman in a white dress with black polka dots appears to be laying down a plate for someone while a man in a full black suit is sitting next to her, to our left. They are both looking to our right, where we detect another broad dress signifying the presence of a woman out of sight.
Another mostly invisible female figure is standing up along the left margin, while behind the sitting couple a man and a woman appear to be arriving to take their place. He is wearing an almost verdigris suit and a bowler hat of the same color and wielding an umbrella. She is also wearing a broad white suit hemmed in by pale-blue decorations.
The original canvas & history of the painting
The fact that two female figures which complete the convivial scene are mostly elided is due to this broad canvas having originally been even larger, as was the painting itself. Monet decided to cut it down to size by removing approximately one-third of the whole, either because of criticism from his contemporary Gustave Courbet or because the canvas, having been pawned by Monet to his landlord in lieu of rent had suffered damage from being rolled up and kept in a damp room.
Monet recovered his canvas in 1884, at which time the painting was presumably as we observe it today, though it was never eventually finished. This places its execution at about the same time as that of Manet’s homonymous painting. The Musée d’Orsay owns the central panel (the one we usually look at) and the left panel. The latter shows us the full female figure omitted on the left: she is turning her back to us and wearing a light-orange dress. Two more people are seen standing next to her, another woman and a man, both fashionably dressed like the rest of the coterie.
That the group is in fact a coterie is testified by the fact that we recognize, in the central group, Claude Monet’s closest friends and associates. The standing man in the bowler hat is Frédéric Bazille, the Impressionist painter. Sitting in a black suit we find Courbet himself, while the woman next to him handling a plate is Camille, Monet’s first wife.
The scene is therefore at least partially posed. The natural setting was first studied by Monet en plein air and the people subsequently inserted.
The effect of light
The mood and the predominant hue are entirely set by the effect of light upon the scene. A greenish-yellowish hue radiates across all shapes as an effect of the surrounding foliage. Pools of white spread over some areas, most notably across Courbet’s shoulders and the standing woman’s dress, as they are directly exposed to sunlight. We assume it to be springtime: nature is resplendent in green, but everyone is dressed up and does not appear to mind the sun.
The trees have created an ideal picnicking site by closing it in from the left and creating some shade. We are certain that more trees are present out of the field to the left as we observe their shadow on the white blanket in the middle.
Yet another version of the Luncheon on the Grass
By 1866 Monet had accomplished an alternative, much smaller version of the Luncheon — both paintings being widely known also by their French title, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
While the central panel of the previous version makes us think of the Luncheon as a vertical canvas, the smaller variant is horizontal. It shows the entire picnicking group in different postures and as seen from a more distant viewpoint. We realize that there are in all twelve people — one individual being nearly invisible in the shadows on the right. A small dog is also present.
The point of view, in this case, is more distant from the group, but it has also been raised. This is why we now see the trees which have hem in and cover this delightful picnicking spot.
Claude Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass Location
The first version of Luncheon on the Grass by Claude Monet is located in The Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. The second version of the Luncheon has been at the Pushkin Museum, in Moscow, since 1948, having been stolen by the Bolsheviks in 1918 from the art collector Paul Cassirer and never returned.