Claude Monet’s painting Study of a Figure Outdoors Woman with a Parasol was painted in 1886, it is one of a pair, the other being Study of a Figure Outdoors: Woman with a Sunshade Turned to the Right. The work is in oil on canvas and hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The setting for the painting is the tiny island of Ile aux Orties, which Monet had recently purchased. The island, situated near his home in Giverny was used primarily for boat storage but it also became a favoured spot of Alice Hoschedé, Monet’s mistress, later to become his second wife. Monet was inspired to paint the work after seeing Alice’s daughter Suzanne Hoschedé strolling on the island while he was out on the river Epte in his boat. Suzanne, her siblings and Monet’s two children had been raised together since the death of his late wife, Camille and Suzanne became a favourite subject of Monet’s work. The scene on Ile aux Orties reminded him of his painting Woman with a Parasol, painted in 1875 depicting Camille and their son Jean. The composition of these paintings is strikingly similar and at first glance appear to be of the same series, these later paintings though are looser and more fleeting in style.
Study of a figure outdoors Woman with a Parasol places Suzanne in a windy landscape, Monet’s recognisable dabs and brushstrokes of colour create a sense of movement in the clouds and in the clothing, the scarf in particular conveying the sense that it might fly off into the breeze. This portrays the fresh feeling of being near the sea, the use of blue tones throughout the piece also contributes to the cool, bracing feel. Pinks and reds in the flowers ground the image and these colours are picked out in an echoing flower on the figure’s dress. Monet had spent time in London and the influence of Turner can be seen here, especially in the contrast of light and shadow hitting the top of the parasol and the back of the dress; this use of light also conveys the sensation of clouds moving through the sky. As he did with most of his work Monet painted the piece outside and this work has a sketchy feel, as if it was captured quickly before the subject moved away. The sister painting is close in composition but with Suzanne facing the other way, and is painted in less windy conditions; lacking the dynamism of Study of a Figure Outdoors Woman with a Parasol. Both paintings avoid any detail in the faces, concentrating instead on the figure within a landscape.
Monet appreciated the atmospherics of the natural world and the way the subject changes through the seasons and differing weather conditions. Using similar compositions in this way for more than one painting was an idea that he used for series such as haystacks and waterlilies. His genius lay in the portrayal of the how it might feel to be present in the landscape and Study of a Figure Outdoors Woman with a Parasol is a rich example of this skill of expression.