Teresa Shantre presents French artist Cleo
Cleo’s Path to Giverny
Cleo (1943 - 2007) This pseudonym - Cleo, more precisely, abbreviation from her name and her family name - Clementina Cote. Thus she was known in communes “Children of flowers” and in Giverny and like this she signed her paintings.
Cleo’s single greatest artistic debt is owed, without a doubt, to Claude Monet and Impressionism. This may not be initially apparent, but in the end it must be and was fully acknowledged.
There appears a stark contrast between Cleo and Monet’s paintings of people. Cleo’s are brimming with passion, bedroom scenes with nude figures in various postures; Monet portrays restraint, tightly buttoned women with parasols, flesh lost in the amplitude of their dresses. Monet also painted domestic scenes, women and children at tables, intimate family picnics. We see the simple clean fun of a day in the park. Cleo, however, shows us seductive potential. Her figures are all alone, and the mood is sometimes melancholic, sometimes exciting and expectant, but rarely restrained or ordinary.
But Cleo eventually moved out of the bedroom and into the garden. She learns restraint, subtlety and harmony. And she does this in the very place that Monet chose to spend his final four decades, a place that would become a Mecca for artists of many different stripes: Giverny.
Monet had his fair share of tumult before purchasing his house at Giverny and settling in for a final period of stability. His gardens, both the flower garden and the water garden, as well as the landscape around Giverny became the subjects for virtually all of his paintings.
This is the same place that Cleo, after her own fair share of tumult, ended up. And she took up many of the same subjects, maturing both emotionally and technically in the place where the master of impressionism left his spirit to walk.
In her Old Giverny Church, we see Cleo allowing the reflection in the water to take up more than half of the painting, a rather astounding practice when Monet first did it. Her Path at Giverny appears a very conscious nod at Monet’s own Path Through the Garden at Giverny. Both show this path dappled with the light of the late afternoon with the low-lying flowers and shrubs overshadowed by the taller evergreen trees.
Cleo’s homage to Monet includes painting his house, in Monet Home in Giverny. We have a view along the front of the house, with the flowerbed in front of the veranda in the foreground, with the steps visible down the line of the veranda. It is a good example of Cleo’s increasing skill with composition, a skill also evident in works such as Village Landscape.
Yet despite the homage in such works and the obvious influence, Cleo is wise enough not to touch Monet’s signature subjects such as water lilies. Instead, she distinguishes herself with such paintings as Path in Monet’s Garden. It is strikingly dissimilar to Monet’s work in color, relying fiery reds, oranges and yellows as opposed to the sedate blues, greens and earth tones of the master. But at the same time it represents her greatest achievement in the impressionist style, and in terms of technique and composition it is one of her best works.