(Paris) Behind some great men, there is a big brother. Claude Monet’s older brother, Léon, is at the center of a historic exhibition in Paris illuminating his role in the life and art of the French Impressionist painter.

Léon – a color chemist four years his senior – is now considered to have played a vital role in the emergence of Monet’s commercial success as well as the famous color palette of masterpieces like the Water Lilies series. .

Without his brother Léon, Claude Monet would not have become the artist we know today, according to Géraldine Lefebvre, curator of the exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg.

His big brother supported him in his early days, when he had no money, customers and was hungry, Lefebvre said. But even more important: the artist’s vivid color palette was created from his brother’s synthetic textile dye colors.

The exhibition is the result of years of research by Mme Lefebvre, who visited Monet’s great-grandchildren, studied family albums and unearthed a masterful portrait of Léon by Claude, which Léon hid in a dusty private collection. This work has never been seen before by the public. The 1874 painting shows Leon with a black suit, a stern expression and flushed cheeks.

The exhibit dispels a long-held view that Claude and his older brother were not close.

“Historians have always thought that the two brothers had nothing to do with each other. It was assumed because there are no photographs of Claude and Léon together, and no correspondence. In fact, they have been incredibly close throughout their lives,” Ms. Lefebvre said.

The brothers had a falling out in the early 1900s and this may explain why no direct record of the relationship exists. “Maybe Leon got rid of the tracks, maybe it was Claude. Maybe it was jealousy. We will never know. It’s a mystery,” she said.

What is now known is that Leon made wine and dined with his younger brother, introduced him to other artists, gave him money and patronized his art – buying it at auction at high prices to bolster its reputation.

“One of the problems was that they shared the family name, it was like (Claude) Monet buying his own works. But it was Léon,” said Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

“This exhibition is important because it highlights Léon Monet, who until now was an invisible figure,” she added. Leon was a key character. »

Léon’s influence went beyond his brother: he financially supported other Impressionists such as Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley – some of whom gathered around his table in Rouen, where the wine flowed. Claude followed his brother to Rouen, where he painted his masterpieces for Rouen Cathedral.