Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Physicist puts time on timeless Monet painting

Art historians have long debated where and when Impression, Soleil Levant, was painted.

Musée Marmottan Monet

Art historians have long debated where and when Impression, Soleil Levant, was painted.

The Impressionist art movement began Nov. 13, 1872, right around 7:35 a.m. local time.

That's the moment Claude Monet put brush to canvas to depict a hazy sunrise seen from his hotel room in Le Havre, according to Donald Olson, a physicist at Texas State University, San Marcos.

The name Monet gave to that now famous work, Impression, Soleil Levant, (Impression, Sunrise) later was affixed to a school of art marked by its imprecise, subjective depiction of quotidian scenes, executed with loose brush strokes in vivid hues.

Art historians have debated where and when Monet's work was painted, with many disbelieving the abbreviated date "72" that the artist brushed beside his name. Others even insisted the plummy skies streaked with orange depicted a sunset, rather than sunrise, over the port city on the Normandy coast.

Olson, who dubs himself a "celestial sleuth," pored over hundreds of photographs and scores of historical maps of Le Havre before determining the precise room that matched the artist's southeast-facing perspective.

EBay's French site proved a boon — scores of historical photos have been posted there, Olson said. Those helped him find the structures depicted in Monet's Le Grand Quai, painted from a balcony of the Hotel de L'Amiraute. A bit of geometry and trigonometry led him to the precise position Monet likely occupied when painting.

Olson next calculated the sun's height from the horizon and its angle of rise, which determined the time of year and time of day depicted in the painting. He settled on late fall or early winter, at 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. local time.

Fellow Texas State physicist Ed Piner offered the next breakthrough, Olson said: The tall, multiple-masted ships depicted by Monet likely could not have been in the distant outer harbor unless tides were high.

"That suggests you're looking at a high tide, near a rising sun in a certain azimuth," Olson said. But that only narrowed the possibilities to 19 dates spanning from November 1872 to January 1873.

Much to Olson's surprise, a trove of 19th century daily weather observations in Le Havre harbor went online recently. He matched the sky and weather conditions to six dates in that period, then narrowed them to two days when the observer noted easterly morning winds-smoke in Monet's painting drifts slightly from east to west.

On Nov. 15, 1872, at 7:35 a.m., the weather observer noted light winds from the southeast with mist, fog and calm seas.

"All of the times I was considering were between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.," Olson said. "So, on exactly the time of day I want to know about, we have a guy looking at the water and looking at the sky. The guy was out there every day at 8 in the morning."

A weather report on Jan. 25, 1873, also matched conditions, but curators opted for the November date, since Monet dated his painting "72."

This was far from Olson's first bout of applying science to art. He and his research team have linked the luridly orange sky of Edvard Munch's The Scream with drifting emissions from the Krakatoa volcanic eruption, and dated a Monet depiction of a sunset near the cliffs on the Normandy coast as well as three Van Gogh works. He also calculated the place where Ansel Adams snapped his shutter to capture an Autumn moon from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park-and organized a re-enactment of the shot, under similar celestial conditions, in 2005.

Olson had puzzled over the sunrise over Le Havre for 15 or more years, putting it aside for other projects. After publication in February of his work on the other Monet painting, The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset, French curators urged Olson to re-examine the Le Havre sunrise-they were planning an exhibition that opens Sept. 18 at the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris.

Physicist puts time on timeless Monet painting 09/04/14 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2014 9:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. O.J. Simpson had a 'conflict-free life'? Not really, not in Florida

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — When O.J. Simpson told a Nevada parole board last week that he's led a "conflict-free life," he seemed to overlook a few episodes that had him cycling in and out of courtrooms and jail cells for nearly 20 years before the Las Vegas hotel-room heist that sent him to prison in 2008.

    Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017.  Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, successfully making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.  [The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP]
  2. Baby Charlie protesters to rally as hospital reports threats

    World

    LONDON — Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment are planning a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats.

    Reverend Patrick Mahoney from Washington DC, centre, speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as he joins other Charlie Gard supporters, Sunday July 23, 2017. Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment gathered for a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats. [Associated Press]
  3. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. FHP: 55-year-old pedestrian struck, killed by car in Largo

    Accidents

    LARGO — A 55-year-old St. Petersburg man died late Saturday after he walked into the path of a car on Ulmerton Road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  5. Study offers warning for Florida strawberry farmers from global warming

    Agriculture

    LAKELAND — Florida strawberry growers already have experienced a dress rehearsal for the impacts of climate change during the past two seasons.

     Carl Grooms shows off some of his strawberries at Fancy Farms near Plant City Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015.  Grooms, President of Fancy Farms. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]