The painting depicts his future wife, Camille, and their son, Jean, seated at a table. The scene is one of ease and comfort and was painted when Monet’s fortunes were changing for the better.
The portrait is about routine activities in the Monet household and the scene is set in Étretat. Claude Monet, plagued by a chronic lack of funds, was fortunate enough to secure a modest stipend from a patron in the summer of 1868.
This was the first time he could afford to live in a modest home. Monet is absent from the painting, and two empty chairs create the impression that Monet and a guest have yet to arrive.
When Monet's paintings were rejected by the conformist jury of the Salon de Paris, he exhibited his working independently, and went on to become the leading proponent of Expressionism. The term Impressionism was originally coined as an insult, by art critic Louis Leroy when he reviewed the Monet painting, Impression, Sunrise.
In April 1874, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley formed the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, a rival group to the conservative Salon de Paris. The anti-establishment society became known as the Impressionists and was to revolutionise the art scene. The organisation catered to avant-garde artists including impressionists. Monet first exhibited The Luncheon in Paris in 1874 was backed by the society.
As an expressionist artist, Monet was interested in how light and shadow inter-played with colour. In The Luncheon we see the table set for an abundant luncheon at midday with Monet’s future wife, Camille, and their son Jean seated at the table.
A woman guest is standing, half asleep, near the table, and a maid is standing behind Camille, peering through the door in the back of the room. A newspaper sits half way on the table. Two chairs are pulled away from the table. Monet’s use of light coming from the curtains impressed many later critics.
Large paintings were normally reserved for historical events, important figures, and posed figures, and it is here that Monet goes against convention. His paintings of everyday life, such as domestic scenes or a woman in a garden were painted as large portraits. Mundane items like a lamp, a hat, a basket, fruits and wine bottles are given prominence.
Colour, light, shadow, and spacing capture the lunch scene in vivid detail. Unlike traditional artists, Monet used short brush strokes and texture to create the impression of motion and light. He used colour and texture to convey his ideas about light. Camille and Jean are painted brighter than the rest of the painting, emphasising their importance to him. His wife and son take centre stage although the empty chairs draw the viewer away from them.
Oscar-Claude Monet suffered from failing eyesight in his later years and died 5 December 1926 at age 86. The Luncheon is currently displayed at Städel. Monet spent most of career understanding how light relates to colour. He developed cataracts in his older years and before his cataract surgery, several paintings were cast in red tones. After the cataracts were removed, he repainted several works and they were bluer than the original.