Claude Monet captures the bond between father and son in the eyes of his first born, Jean, in this important painting entitled L'Enfant a la tasse, portrait de Jean Monet (Infant with a cup, portrait of Jean Monet). Jean became one of Monet's favorite subjects to paint and remained so throughout his prestigious career. But it is the early portraits that are some of the most revealing, as they reflect the power of a son's love to warm the spirit of a struggling father, even one as iconic as Monet. A window into the artist's psyche still in impeccable condition, this painting is a treasure to behold.
Monet painted L'Enfant a la tasse during an incredibly turbulent time in his career. By the mid-1860s, in his mid-twenties, Monet was in financial turmoil. He had yet to achieve unanimous success at the Parisian Salon, and his debts were mounting even with ongoing financial support from his wealthy aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre. The final straw was his announcement to his family that Camille, then considered merely a mistress, was expecting his child. Monet's father, Alphonse, grew angry. He forced Monet to choose between his aunt's money and Camille, so Monet chose his new family over the financial security of his old one.
Monet continued to struggle with his mounting debts, which did not subside after the arrival of his son. After setting up Camille and baby Jean in Paris, he began working in earnest, producing some of his most iconic works. His family was encouraged by his prolific production, but Monet had worked so diligently that he was beyond fatigued. His submissions to the Salon of 1868 suffered, and his subsequent eviction from his family's dwelling at Ville-d'Avray early that summer pushed his worn spirit over the brink. He threw himself in the Seine River in hopes of drowning in June of 1868, but in addition to realizing he was too strong a swimmer to drown, Monet discovered his undeniable will to live, not only for his art, but also for his infant son Jean.
Only the third portrait Monet ever painted of his charming son, L'Enfant a la tasse reveals Monet's early experimentation with what would become known as the hallmarks of the Impressionist technique. The broad, loosened brushstrokes and the immediacy of the composition belie Monet's interest in the sensational quality of paintings, a fascination that had been growing over the course of the decade. This ability to capture a moment in time, not in a photographic manner but rather by producing a multidimensional snapshot of emotions and perceptions, was what struck art critic Louis Leroy about Monet's later painting, Impression: Sunrise in the independent exhibition of 1874 and thus gave birth to the term "Impressionism."