Miles Kington Remembered: Remember, Edgar – paint them wide, not long

3 November 1994

It is normally said that the Impressionist School of painting developed as a protest against the academic conventions of the day in France, and as a new means of self-expression. But a recently discovered conversation between Monet and Degas suggests things may not have been so simple.

Monet: Morning, Edgar.

Degas: Morning, Claude. What have you got there?

Monet: It's a lily.

Degas: Present for someone?

Monet: No, just taking it to the studio to paint. Doing a picture called Lilies in the Garden.

Degas: So why don't you paint it in the garden?

Monet: Too freezing cold, mon vieux.

Degas: Hmm. Good job you aren't English, that's all I can say.

Monet: Well, I agree, but what makes you say that?

Degas: If you go down the street in England carrying a lily, they put you in prison.

Monet: Is that a satirical reference to poor old Oscar Wilde?

Degas: That was the intention.

Monet: Oh, very topical. Not very funny, but very topical.

Degas: Thanks a million. Incidentally, what's that under your other arm?

Monet: That? Oh, that's an Impressionist painting.

Degas: And what might that be when it's at home?

Monet: It's something I've invented recently. Want to see?

Degas: Try me.

Monet: There! What do you think?

Degas: Blimey! It's sort of... blurry, isn't it?

Monet: Yes. That's the idea.

Degas: What's it meant to be, if you don't mind me asking?

Monet: High tide at Honfleur.

Degas: You could have fooled me.

Monet: Maybe it's low tide at Honfleur. I'm not much of a sailor.

Degas: But it is Honfleur?

Monet: Oh, yes! Or maybe it's Deauville.

Degas: Hmm... What's it for?

Monet: Well, you just write on the back ''Thanks for a lovely dinner – we must have you round to us as soon as is humanly possible, and as soon as Julian's crazy workload eases off a bit!'' and then you send it off to the people you had dinner with.

Degas: I beg your pardon?

Monet: You write on the back "Thanks for a lovely dinner – we must have you round to us..."

Degas: Yes, I heard that. It's just that... well, it's a bit big to send round to someone's house after a dinner party as a thank you note, isn't it? And somewhat expensive to send a whole painting?

Monet: Sure. This is the clever thing. You don't send the painting. You send a photograph of the painting!

Degas: Hold on, hold on, let me get this straight. You take a photo of the painting and write on the back "Thanks for the lovely dinner..." and send it round?

Monet: That's it.

Degas: I don't believe it.

Monet: We've done the research. There's a vast market for tiny photographic reproductions of big paintings which people can use to send each other thanks for dinner parties.

Degas: You're joking!

Monet: I kid you not.

Degas: If you say so, Claude.

Monet: Here's another thing. A lot of these Impressionist paintings actually look better when reduced to the size of a postcard. That's why they are so blurry. Look, go over there and have a look from 20 metres away at my high tide at Honfleur...

Degas (shouting): You're right! All those blurry blots of paint actually look like little boats from here! Not much, but a bit...

Monet: Well, they'll look better on postcards, too.

Degas (returning): So people will be able to buy photos of the painting without owning the painting?

Monet: Without even seeing it. I don't suppose more than one in a million will ever come face to face with the original painting. They will just send each other postcards of a painting they have never seen. And the reproduction rights will make us a fortune!

Degas: Hmm... I think you're on to something, Claude. Mind if I jump on the bandwagon?

Monet: Plenty of room on board, old chap. Just one hint, though. Make the paintings wider than they're long – landscape, not portrait. Market research shows that people don't like buying upright postcards so much.

Degas: Right-ho. Thanks for the tip... You'd better hurry. That lily's wilting.

Monet: You're right. A bientot.

Degas: Hasta la vista.

Authentic copies of this early Impressionist conversation are available from me. Just send me your name, address and a blank cheque.