Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This painting depicts a scene at Étretat, on the coast of Normandy. The Manneporte is one of three natural stone arches in the area.
- Claude Monet was part of a group of painters known as the Impressionists. They often painted quickly, to capture fleeting moments in time.
- Monet would have painted this scene fast, while the tide was low enough for him to stand close to the rocks. His brushstrokes imitate the movement of sunlight sparkling on water.
- Monet destroyed most of his paintings of the stone arches at Étretat. He was convinced that no one would want to buy them.
In 1883 Claude Monet spent nearly a month at Étretat, a fishing village and resort on the Normandy coast. He painted many views of the beach and the rock formations in the area. The Manneporte (“Great Portal” in French) is the largest of three limestone arches at Étretat. This natural stone arch was a favorite subject of artists. It would have been challenging for Monet to carry an easel and supplies down to the beach to paint the Manneporte from this perspective. The tide came in fast, so he could only spend a short amount of time in the spot where he created this painting. He had to pay close attention to the incoming waves, to avoid getting hurt or having his equipment destroyed.
The rough, short brushstrokes Monet used to create Waves at the Manneporte show that he created the painting quickly. He had to work fast to capture the way the sun lit the stone arch and reflected in the spray of the breaking waves. This painting was created over the course of at least two separate sessions. Monet added the broad strokes (along the ridges of the stone arch) and the thick, pastel-colored highlights (at the bottom of the arch) after he made the initial, rough-sketch version on the beach. The yellow highlights he added to the water indicate that the sun is setting behind the rocks. He kept the sky and the distant background very simple.
Monet destroyed most of these “quick paintings” because art dealers convinced him that no one would want to buy them. Fortunately he held on to Waves at the Manneporte. His friend, an American painter named John Singer Sargent, visited his studio in 1887. When Sargent saw this painting, he begged Monet to sell it to him.
Resources for Teachers:
- Watch a video about Claude Monet.
- Read or listen to Monet’s letter describing his experience creating this painting.
- Read an article about the impressionist art movement.
Resources for Students: