Memoir VI: The Godfather

France as a nation has given the world many things; it has given us French bread, the Eiffel tower and scientists.

I remember when I was 12, and I went to Paris by myself. I took the Eurostar, and it was my first time travelling alone. So, I went through customs by myself and I made it to the “City of Love”.

I was there for three weeks and stayed with family friends. It was an alright trip, it had some ups and some downs. Went to Disneyland Paris, caught the flu and learnt some French too.

While I was in Paris, I became humbled. Because the people I encountered did not speak English. When you are in a country and the native language is not English, it can be frustrating. Because you can’t get your message across so easily. You may want to say, “Can you speak English, I don’t understand/speak X”. But that’s ignorant and arrogant on your part, and I think it is something that all of us monolingual English speakers suffer from. That subconscious inferiority complex that our language should be spoken worldwide. We need to adopt the approach of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” but enough of that.

My worst day in Paris was when I got stopped and searched, by the French police. During my last week, I wanted to buy some souvenirs for my family. With only €35 left, I took to the streets of Paris, in search of my money’s worth. I entered shop after shop and I would see ludicrous prices jumping at me. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t enter London without bringing any souvenirs or else I would just enter a room full of insults. West Africans are the worst But as time passed by, I was slowly accepting my fate. Until I encountered a black merchant, he was selling an array of Eiffel towers, and most importantly they were all cheap.

So, my job was done, souvenirs bought, and crisis averted. However, as I was giving him the euros, he was very hasty. It was as if he needed to do the biggest piss of his life He was shaky, looking around his back every second and saying “vite” every second. All of this abnormal behaviour and my 12 year old self thought nothing of this. So the souvenirs were bought, and my family friend and I continued with our day.

As we walked through a park, French police stopped us and pinned us up against a van. They stopped and searched us. As well as that, they confiscated my Eiffel towers. Once that was done they began screaming at me in French. It’s at this point I entered panic mode and started screaming; “I am English!”, “I am not French!”, “I don’t speak French!” and “I speak English!” both in French and English, multiple times. It’s at this point my family friend intervenes and tells them to back off. But the police proceeded to kick dirt on him and slap him with a glove.

The ordeal lasted for 30 minutes and the officers’ excuse was, they thought that I was selling Eiffel towers. They returned my souvenirs, but I did not want them. After walking away, I was in a strange mind-state. I thought to myself, maybe the officers were just doing their job. But at the same time, I felt violated and humiliated, I was stopped and searched because of an assumption, the officers assumed that a “12 year old black boy” was selling Eiffel towers on the streets of Paris. Did the Black merchant, have a “licence” to sell those Eiffel towers, probably not. But still, I felt violated

If we look at stop and search, and its significance on us black males. It’s as if it is a “rite of passage”. The same way Christians use the line, “When did you get baptised?” Is equivalent to black males saying to each other, “When did you first get stopped and searched?”. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for keeping the streets of the world safe from crime, but at the same time officers use your goddam head

So that was my time in Paris in a nutshell. As I said, it had its ups and downs. But it had regrets too. I didn’t see any museums. To be honest, 12 year old me would have disliked the idea. My attention span was so small at the time I didn’t see the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay or even the Musée de l’Orangerie, which housed art from the famous French artist, Claude Monet.

Born 14th November 1840 in Paris, France. Monet was the son of a famous French businessman. Monet’s father had big plans. He wanted Monet to be a businessman and inherit the family’s grocery store. But at age 5, a young Monet had different plans, he wanted to be an artist.

At 16 years old, he was already making money from his art. He would draw caricatures and sell them at a decent price.

He was never a fan of school. A current theme with most great artists It was during this age, he encounters the famous French artist, Eugène Boudin. The service this man has done for landscape art is outstanding, and he probably deserves his own memoir Boudin inspires Monet, he tells him to capture everything he sees and present it on the canvas.

But before Monet can put those words to good use, his mother dies the following year. Her death had an immense impact on his school work. In fact, he left school shortly after.

His father could sense this, he told Monet to leave the house for a while and live with his aunt. His aunt was a strict woman but she encouraged him to continue pursuing art.

1961, Monet joins the French military and he intends to stay for 7 years. After spending a couple of months in Africa, he contracts typhoid and is sent back to Paris, with the assistance of his aunt.

1962, Monet is in Paris and is still pursuing art, he is taught by Charles Gleyre. He is also famous too While there, he is exposed to artists who are new to the scene and are teeming with fresh ideas.

1866, a struggling Monet, has little fame and a lack of money to his name. However, an opportunity comes knocking in the form of the Salon, an official art exhibition that is sponsored by the French government.

The salon was the biggest art exhibition known to Europe. Monet submitted a piece and lied that it took him four days to complete, it took him 5 months but it worked. The piece was accepted and exhibited, it sold for a fair price but did not make a significant change to his standard of living, he was still poor. To make things worse, he had a child around this time.

1868 and Monet submitted another piece. However, this time it is rejected. His situation does not change, Monet reaches such a low point that he even attempts suicide and thank God it is incomplete suicide

1870, and Monet enters the next chapter of his life, marriage. He gets married to Camille Doncieux. During this year, the Franco-Prussian War commences, and France is invaded,

Monet flees to London. While in London, he sees a range of paintings and yet again he is inspired about how the pieces capture light.

1871, Monet returns to France, this time to the region, Argenteuil. While there, he works with his new peers and they begin discussing new ideas. It is at this point, the group accepts the attitudes held towards their art, from the French establishment. Instead of trying to adapt to the current rules, they instead pursue the opposite.

1874, Monet and his peers hold their own exhibition in Paris. The exhibition draws approximately 4000 visitors, but it is a complete disaster.

The group make a huge cash loss and the critics have a field day, critics hurl insult after insult. They call their work, “impressions of reality”. However, the group takes comments such as these in their stride and they start calling themselves, impressionists. It is because of this, that their style of art is now referred to as impressionism.

We can see this notion of through works such Woman with a Parasol (painted 1875) and The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train (painted 1877). If we look at the two pieces, both capture the subject of the piece but at the same time they don’t. With “Woman with a Parasol”, Camille’s clothes blend in with the afternoon sky. The only features that stand out are her face and her hands. Even her umbrella is the same shade of green as the grass. However, if you pay close attention, the shades of the green are just a tad darker. The difference in colour is due to Camille’s shadow. In addition, the different flakes of colour such as the yellow, the purple and white are due to the different plants.

With “The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train”, the train and the rail attendant are drawn to much more detail, in comparison to the other workers to the left and right of the piece. What intrigues me the most, is what Monet does with the clouds of smoke emitted from the train. He makes them look calm and gentle, akin to clouds on a sunny day. The buildings in the back are not drawn to such detail and their colours are the same as the clouds of smoke. This could be due to the amount of smoke being so large that they obscured Monet’s vision.


Arrival At Saint Lazare Station

During this decade, his work is selling but it is not to his standard. 1878, Monet’s wife starts to become ill and a year later she dies. He is in a mournful state, but Monet is fascinated by how his wife looks after death. He is intrigued by how his wife’s body captures different proportions of light. Any human would enter a state of depression in this situation and rightfully so. But for Monet it’s the opposite, he throws himself at his work.

During the turn of 1880, Monet starts to make bold and ambitious moves; he leaves his peers and decides to exhibit his work in solo exhibitions. In addition, he starts selling his work to his art dealer’s rival. He even gets an international opportunity, and his work is exhibited in New York. Thanks to his art dealer, Durand-Ruel. Which he betrayed

1890 and Monet’s work is selling well amazingly well. With all the money he has amassed, Monet purchases the house he rented in Giverny, France and begins developing his garden. 1891, Monet exhibits his series of haystack paintings. It was these series of paintings, that would go on to inspire the Abstract artist, Wassily Kandinsky During Monet’s lifetime he would paint the same painting multiple times, Monet did this because he wanted to see how different times of the day and seasons would influence his work, he loved seeing the variations in colour in his pieces.

1892, Monet marries his second wife, Alice Hoschedé. 1894, Monet continues his work with his garden. He diverts water from a river which is 200m away into his pond to form a lake. The artist then proceeds to put different species of plants in the lake, the most famous being waterlilies. Additionally, he places two Japanese Bridges over the lake. This garden would double as both the artist’s sanctum and workspace, it would be the inspiration of some of Monet’s famous pieces. For example, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge (painted 1897-99)


During this decade, Monet’s work was in high demand, he couldn’t keep up with this. To keep up with this demand, Monet built an even bigger studio in 1899.

A new century is upon Monet and he seizes several opportunities; he travels to England, Spain and Italy. While there he just draws, the man is fully entrenched in his work.

But happiness does not last forever and 1911, Monet’s second wife, Alice Hoschedé dies. To add to that, a few years after, Monet is diagnosed with nuclear cataract. In today’s medical world, cataract is something that can easily be resolved. But during Monet’s time, even if you were a millionaire, it was something that would progressively lead to blindness.

Monet’s vision changed drastically, it affected how he painted, landscapes which he had painted multiple times were significantly different.

But this didn’t affect his work. In fact, you could even argue that it gave his work a new lease of life. This is evident in pieces such as The Japanese footbridge (painted 1920-22). There is no cohesion between the colours. However, you could argue that Monet painted this during autumn hence the red-brown colour. But even the blue, its significance, I don’t understand why. With “The Japanese footbridge”, Monet painted this scene multiple times and from what I can see it is as if the artist is painting from his memory, he is experimenting with colours.

Japanese footbridge

Another example of this is the Path under the Rose Trellises, Giverny (painted 1920-22), you can barely make out the path. But you can see and appreciate that the different colours represent the variety of wildlife.


Moreover, death would continue to follow the artist’s loved ones; in 1914, Monet’s son dies, age 47. As well as that, this is the year that the Great War begins World War I. After the war, in 1918, as a gift of peace to the nation, Monet sends two water lily paintings to the French Prime Minister, Georges Clémenceau. The paintings lead to a conversation and in 1920, Georges Clémenceau asks Monet to produce 20 paintings that would be on display in the Musée de l’Orangerie. For a man who is in his 80s and who can barely see, this was an immense task. But after a bit of persuasion, Monet agrees.

1923, Monet decides to remove the lens of his right eye, and it has a profound effect on his vision. His vision is partially restored, but his perception of colour is changed forever. His blues and violets become deeper, It was as if he had the eye of a bee. He would experiment with this new gift and would create pieces with just one eye open. But sadly, he would destroy them afterwards

By 1926, Monet had completed the 20 paintings and was left with just 10% vision. Each piece was around 2 metres high and 5 metres wide. His goal was to have the pieces finished by 1922, but Monet struggled to finish them. He wanted the pieces to be a symbolism of his life’s work, so he kept on changing them until he was satisfied. In the end, he called the pieces, “Les Grandes Décorations” The Grand Decoration. During that year Monet suffered from lung cancer and on December 5th 1926, the artist died.

The title of this memoir is called “The Godfather” and it is a just title indeed. Within the artist’s life, he produced over 2000 pieces, this feat alone cements Monet as one of the founding fathers of Impressionism. His work has stood the test of time and has inspired many artists in the 20th and 21st Century. Monet and his contemporaries did something that no one else dared to do. They moved art away from traditional realism and into an era, that would change art forever. They paved the way for multiple movements such as surrealism, expressionism, cubism and many more.

What makes Claude Monet such a celebrated artist was the way he captured colour. Claude Monet once said, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration”. I believe this quote to be the embodiment of his work, the artist infused colours with such immense emotions, he explored the subtlety of colours and it was through doing this, he allowed the viewer to see the world through a different lens. The Sistine Chapel can be found in Rome, Italy. But if you want to see The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism, then travel to the Musée de l’Orangerie.

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