These fragments are two of the remaining parts of the monumental Luncheon on the Grass by Claude Monet. The work was started in the spring of 1865 and measured over four metres by six. It was intended to be both a tribute and a challenge to Manet whose painting of the same title had been the subject of much sarcasm from the public as well as the critics when it was exhibited in the Salon des Refusés in 1863. But the project was abandoned in 1866, just before the Salon where Monet intended to show it, opened.
In 1920, the painter himself recounted what had happened to the picture: "I had to pay my rent, I gave it to the landlord as security and he rolled it up and put in the cellar. When I finally had enough money to get it back, as you can see, it had gone mouldy." Monet got the painting back in 1884, cut it up, and kept only three fragments. The third has now disappeared.
Monet started by producing a series of small studies from life, then made a more finished and worked sketch in the studio (Moscow, Pushkin Museum). The most noticeable difference between the sketch and the painting is the replacement of the young beardless man sitting on the tablecloth, with a strapping bearded fellow who bears a striking resemblance to Courbet. Courbet had been to see Monet and Bazille in their shared studio during the winter of 1865-1866. According to Bazille, he was, "enchanted" by The Luncheon on the Grass. This account differs from that of Gustave Geffroy, who said that Courbet's comments were the reason why Monet abandoned the painting. However the two accounts are not incompatible – a negative opinion might have been formulated after the compliments. The fact remains that Monet wrote to Bazille in 1865: "I can think of nothing but my painting and if I had to leave it, I think I would go mad" It is therefore easy to imagine how discouraging Monet would have found the slightest hint of reticence from the master of the avant-garde.
Whether Courbet had been critical or not, Monet would have been perfectly aware of the difficulties in transposing the sketch into a monumental painting. He accentuated the contrasts in light and shade, heightened the colours, and furthermore maintained the radiance and spontaneity of the studies. In April 1866, seeing that he would be unable to finish the immense painting for the Salon, Monet announced his decision to Armand Gautier to "leave on one side for the moment all my current large projects which only use up my money and get me into difficulties. ".
Luncheon on the Grass (left panel) 418 x 150 cm
Luncheon on the Grass (central panel) 248.7 x 218 cm