Camille Doncieux

click here to access Monet's paintings of Camille.


amille Monet, Monet's first wife, deserves a web page of her own. For she, like the wives of other great Impressionist painters, was virtually lost in the shadows of the man whose live she shared. And for as much as Monet may possessed the genius and resolve tostruggle to the top of his art, the woman who was at his side must receive some recognition not only because she posed for many of his most inspired works but because she shared his miseries, hopes and his disappointments in the years of most suffering.

If  the precise nature of the sentimental relationship between the Monet and Camille is unknown, evidence points to the fact that all was not well, perhaps from the very beginning. In fact, Monet may have married Camille partly because he was having financial difficulties. And tragically, Camille died young when her husband was deep in debt and very possibly already with a mistress. In any case, Monet was not without affection for Camille an the artist left not a few  touching canvases with Camille as the primary subject.

Camille as painted by Auguste Renoir
in about 1874

Camille Doncieux was still in her teens when Monet met her around 1865. Although she was of humble origins and worked as a model, she was an attractive, intelligent girl with dark hair and wonderful eyes according to Monet. Camille was seven years younger than Monet who was just a poor painter at that time. Camille soon became his mistress and model. Men of Monet’s social class tended not to marry their mistresses, but Claude, ever stubborn, ignored the rules. Unfortunately, the couple lived in depressing poverty. Right up to her death she sat for him regularly, appearing frequently as a female figure in a rural landscape. Many of these canvases are among Monet's finest masterpieces.

Shortly before leaving Paris for Trouville, Camille and Claude were married in a civil ceremony performed at the town hall of the eighth arrondissement. The rebellious French painter Gustave Courbet was one of the witnesses. Camille's parents were present, and the affair was conducted with proper formality. All that marred the occasion was the absence of Monet's farther and aunt, who regarded the union as a disastrous misalliance. The Doncieux family had the foresight to insist on a marriage settlement that allowed their daughter to retain control of her own small dowry, an insurance against the prodigal instincts of their future son-in-law. Although Monet's parents were financially stable, his father refused to help his son since he did not agree on Monet's choice of profession.

Perhaps the first years of ther union, Camille and Monet were happy. Monet spent the summer of 1867 in Sainte-Adresse, a small town on the Channel coast of Normandy just north of Le Havre. Among the works painted that summer were The Beach at Sainte-Adresse and Garden at Sainte-Adresse. On June 25, he reported to fellow painter and friend Frédéric Bazille that all was well: "I have been here for fifteen days, happy and as well as can be expected. Everyone is charming and admires every stroke of my brush." Undoubtedly his admirers included the figures depicted here: the artist's cousin Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre, standing beside an unidentified gentleman in the middle ground; Monet's aunt, Madame Lecadre; and his father Adolphe, seated in the foreground.

With the Salon deadline looming and in desperate need of money, Monet quickly completed a full-length formal portrait of Camille entitled Woman in a Green Dress, finishing it in only four days. He did finish it in time and it was accepted into the Salon where it was met with much public admiration and Arsène Houssaye purchased it for a sum of 800 francs, an unbelievable amount for such a young, unestablished artist. Monet was thereafter commissioned to make the portrait of Madame Gaudibert of Le Havre.

Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet, and Rodin
Ruth Butler

Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Auguste Rodin. The names of these brilliant nineteenth-century artists are known throughout the world. But what is remembered of their wives? What were these unknown women like? What roles did they play in the lives and the art of their famous husbands?

In this remarkable book of discovery, art historian Ruth Butler coaxes three shadowy women out of obscurity and introduces them for the first time as individuals.

Riding on his success (and his earnings) from Woman in a Green Dress, Monet quickly launched into his next major work: Women in the Garden. He planned to execute this project on a canvas that measured over eight feet in height, attempting to capture the effect of light falling through trees on a group of women enjoying a leafy, sun-filled garden. Camille again served as his model, posing for all four figures that appear in the painting, and as a result they all bear a strong resemblance to each other. Despite Monet’s effort, the Salon’s jury rejected Women in the Garden which he submitted in 1867. This was not a total surprise for Monet, though, as the Salon looked with disfavor on art that was outside of the academic standards of the time, which Monet’s clearly was. The figures are not part of any historical, literary, religious, or social message – they have no story line – they simply exist. The piece, like all of Monet’s work, was not intended to convey any deep symbolic message but was created solely to give pleasure and delight to the viewer – and this goal was considered unworthy of a “true” artist.

After the failure of Women in the Garden, again on the brink of economic ruin, and with Camille pregnant, Monet had to return home to Le Havre to make peace with his family, who were threatening to cut off his allowance, and while he was away Camille gave birth to their first son, Jean. He also wrote desperate letters to his friends, among them Bazille, begging them to loan him money. Monet made a half-hearted attempt at suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.

The following year Camille modeled for On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868, a small but brilliant work. Monet began the painting while he, Camille, and their new son, Jean, were staying at an inn near the village of Bonnières-sur-Seine. Among the greatest of Monet’s oil sketches, On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt reveals the early hallmarks of Impressionism: the commonplace subject of an intimate friend relaxing in an open-air, waterside setting in the countryside near Paris; the broken, vibrating brush strokes that depict the fluctuations of light; a high-keyed palette of rapidly applied blues, greens, and yellows; and forms that evoke a sense of immediacy.

Monet was not the only young artist in Paris to paint a large-format picture of a single standing figure in those days. Manet, Renoir and Carolus-Duran as well as Tissot and Whistler also dealt with this theme. Like Monet's Camille, their early figure paintings were not commissioned, either; instead, they represented their friends or models who can still be identified by name today.

Despite his copious planning, Monet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe remained a difficult task, and the troubles experienced by Monet as he tackled his life-size canvas seemed to reflect his actual disinterest in figure paintings.

Camille with a puppy as painted
by Monet

In July or August of 1870 Monet painted The Hôtel des Roches Noires at Trouville, during what was effectively his honeymoon with Camille. Monet depicted the world Proust was to evoke in his description of life at the fictional resort of Balbec. The Duchesse de Guermantes, Odette de Crécy, Madame Verdurin, Charles Swann, Baron Charlus: the real-life prototypes for all these fictional characters might easily be among the beautifully turned-out men and women who stroll along this raised terrace overlooking the beach and boardwalk on a breezy day in high summer. Monet suggests the international flavor of Trouville by the prominence he gives to the American, French and British flags on the left of the picture.

However, Camille's demise presumably begins with the unfortunate encounter of Monet with the Ernest and Alice Hoschedé, a Parisian businessman who had inherited a fortune from his father’s business (a merchant of fine laces and shawls) and from his marriage in 1863 to Alice Raingo, who came from a wealthy Belgian family. Alice and Ernest divided their time between their luxurious Paris apartment at 64 Rue de Lisbonne and at the Château de Rottembourg at Montgeron to the south-east of the capital, where they entertained on a lavish scale, even chartering a special train to transport guests from the city.

During this period, Monet and the Hoschedés became close friends, and when Ernest’s extravagant lifestyle eventually caught up with him and he was financially ruined, Monet was swift to offer his support.

Hoschedé’s collection of impressionist paintings was sold in June 1878. The pictures went for disappointingly low prices and Ernest fled to Belgium for a while to escape his debts. The Hoschedés were forced to abandon their life of luxury and, in August 1878, at Monet’s suggestion, they moved into a small house in the village of Vétheuil, together with the artist, his wife Camille and their children Jean and Michael .

In a unusual arrangement, the Monets, the Hoschedés and their children (12 in total) not including their handful of servants, were soon forced to move to a larger house, situated on the road from Vétheuil to La Roche-Guyon.

Camille as background figure
in Monet's The Lunch

Soon after the two families settled in Vétheuil, Ernest Hoschedé started working for the Paris newspaper Le Voltaire. He spent most of his time in the capital, leaving Alice and the family in Vétheuil where the rent was cheaper. Meanwhile, Monet was having difficulty selling his paintings and, to make matters worse, Camille was in need of almost constant care. Any money that Monet made and didn’t spend on paints and materials went towards buying medicine. Yet looking at the pictures that Monet produced during this period, there is little evidence of these difficulties. Although his letters to his friends are full of self-pity and pleas for financial assistance, his paintings, by contrast, are bursting with sunshine, color and luminosity.

In 1877 Camille gave birth to her second son, Michel. Soon Camille's health deteriorated - to some sources as a result of a malpracticed abortion, to others she had cancer. On August 31, a priest was called to the house to administer the last rites and to sanction her marriage to Monet (which had been conducted in a civil ceremony in 1870). Monet was devastated. On September 5,  five days later, Camille died at the age of 32. Monet had not always treated her well and probably had a relationship with Alice Hoschedé, while still being married to Camille. But he was deeply shocked at Camille's death. Claude painted her a last time - at her deathbed. Though he kept Camille Monet on her Deathbed in his own possession for most of his life, the painting has since become one of his most well-known works.

"I caught myself watching her tragic forehead," he wrote afterwards to a friend, "almost mechanically observing the sequence of changing colours that death was imposing on her rigid face. Blue, yellow, grey and so on… my reflexes compelled me to take unconscious action in spite of myself."

After Camille’s death, rumors began spreading about Monet’s relationship with Alice Hoschedé. Ernest was unwilling to give up his job in Paris, and Alice was reluctant to join him there. That year Hoschedé did not even return to his family for Christmas. In January 1880, Le Gaulois newspaper announced a mock funeral, reporting the "grievous loss" of Claude Monet who was living in Vétheuil with his "charming wife" (Alice Hoschedé). The article went on to report that Monet supported his former patron, Ernest Hoschedé, who was financially bankrupt and living in the artist’s studio in Paris.

Camille posed for both of these figures
(she appears another time in the same picture)in her
husband's early masterpeice, The Luncheon.

Camille Monet in Japanes Costume

Monet exhibited this work at the second group show of the Impressionist painters in 1876, where it attracted much attention. Large-scale figure paintings had traditionally been considered the most significant challenge for an artist. Using this format, Monet created a virtuoso display of brilliant color that is also a witty comment on the current Paris fad for all things Japanese. The woman shown wrapped in a splendid kimono and surrounded by fans is Monet's wife, Camille, wearing a blond wig to emphasize her Western identity.