Camille on Her Deathbed


It is hard to tell if Claude Monet was more excited or horrified by his wife Camille’s corpse.

When she died at the early age of 32, Monet described his morbid fascination with the play of light and color on her body as, “the obsession, the joy, the torment of my days.” Very creepy. But believe it or not, a little soft necrophilia is not the most sinister thing going on here.

Monet met Camille Doncieux when she was a teenaged model posing for his painting The Picnic.  She was an attractive woman with beautiful, sad eyes and was quite sought-after in the Impressionist circle, painted by such artists as Pierre Auguste Renoir.  Camille was immensely chic, and Monet’s paintings made her something of a fashion icon. Even her death shroud is stylish! She was soon hailed as the “Queen of Paris.”

Early in their relationship, she and Monet lived in sin, not to mention abject poverty. Maybe they should have cut her clothing budget. Monet left her pregnant without funds to avoid the scrutiny of his disapproving relatives, but eventually married her in a civil ceremony witnessed by fellow artist Gustave Courbet.

Camille’s health failed, aggravated by pregnancies, poverty and perhaps by the stress of a rumored affair between Monet and their roommate Alice Horschede. Alice was the wife of Monet’s friend and patron who had gone bankrupt and moved in with them. Apparently Alice found a resourceful way to pay off the debt. 

Some have hinted that Camille’s melancholy expression in later portraits is not from illness, but heartbreak.  As she lay dying, the uncertain legitimacy of their union haunted her.  A Catholic Priest performed a deathbed re-marriage, after which she seemed at peace.  She died 5 days later, most likely of uterine cancer.  One theory claims her death was the result of botched abortions which, if true, can’t have been good for her Catholic guilt.

Camille had pawned all her keepsakes to pay the bills, and Monet retrieved her favorite gold locket and placed it around her neck.  A seemingly sweet gesture…though if he had been diddling Alice while his wife lay in agony, he was probably feeling like a first class douche and trying to make up for it.

Alice appears to have had no such qualms.  She destroyed all of Camille’s letters and photographs in a jealous attempt to squash her memory. (A pretty successful attempt as only one photograph survived in a private collection.)  She married Monet after her inconvenient husband finally croaked.  In Alice’s defense, it can’t be good for a girl’s morale to have a painting of wife #1’s corpse hanging around the house. It probably wasn’t much fun for Monet to look at either. He never signed it. The signature visible in the corner here was stamped on after he died.