In February 1866, Monet temporarily abandoned Luncheon on the Grass and hurriedly prepared a new canvas featuring his nineteen-year-old mistress, Camille Doncieux, in a green-and-black striped walking dress, small “Empire” bonnet, and fur-trimmed jacket. One of Monet’s most frequent early subjects, Camille posed for all four women in Women in the Garden and also appears in the aforementioned Luncheon on the Grass, among other paintings. The difference is that none of those paintings name her by name. The painting above is, in fact, titled Camille.
Now in the 1866 Salon, where this painting was first shown, there were plenty of portraits. Portraits made up approximately one out of every seven of the 1,998 paintings total in the exhibition. Some were designated by full names and titles, or more commonly by the euphemistic “Monsieur X,” “Madame X,” or “Mademoiselle X.” Just a handful of portraits were titled with first names only. And even fewer featured subjects from more middle-class backgrounds. Such large scale paintings (it’s over seven feet tall) were typically reserved for royal or distinguished personages.
We’re not sure why Monet did this, but we do know that it might have backfired. By trying to elevate her, he may have cast doubt on her social status. We also know that for at least one critic, her name entered the lexicon to describe a certain type of lady. Léon Billot, who saw the painting in 1868, described her as “not a society woman, but a Camille.”
Image Credit: Claude Monet. Camille, 1866. Kunsthalle Bremen.