Fans of Claude Monet’s The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset (1883) can now rest easy, knowing exactly when it was painted: February 5, 1883 at 4:53 pm local mean time (plus or minus one minute).
A team of researchers from Texas State University applied some forensic astronomy to pinpoint the location and time the famous scene was captured. Armed with postcard reproductions of several paintings created by Monet during his three-week stay in the area, they were able to find the exact vantage points from which Monet created the paintings. Of all the paintings Monet painted at Étretat, this is the only canvas that includes the disk of the sun, and that one detail opened the door to date the scene precisely.
The team was led by astronomer and physics professor Donald Olson, author of the recently published Celestial Sleuth: Using Astronomy to Solve Mysteries in Art, History and Literature. The team’s findings were published in the February 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine and reported by Zee News.