Claude Monet’s The Magpie (Paris: Musée d’Orsay), painted in Étretat on the Channel coast near Le Havre in 1869, is universally acknowledged to be his early masterpiece. Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge call “the miraculous [Magpie] the prize of the joyful winter at Étretat.” Mary Matthews Gedo states that it is “one of the most magnificent snow scenes in his entire oeuvre.” And Alice Thomine-Berrada concludes that by “choosing a light palette and applying a delicate touch to the colored rendering of shadows . . . Monet created one of the first masterpieces of Impressionism.” But any analysis of Monet’s dazzling technique and subtle colors that ignores the symbolic bird Monet emphasizes in the title can take us only so far. To fully explain the meaning of this miraculous and magnificent masterpiece, we must...


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