by Gerald Boerner
Today we take a look at one of the Impressionist artists, Claude Monet. He was part of a new generation of artists in the latter part of the 19th century, especially in France, who abandoned the confines of the studio to capture the beauty of people in natural settings DIRECTLY ON CANVAS. Because they no longer controlled the conditions under which they created their masterpieces, they needed to learn to read and use light, just as photographers must do. Therefore, we find them creating studies of the same subject (e.g., Rouen Cathedral) painted at different time of day and under different lighting conditions. GLB
“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
— Claude Monet
“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
— Claude Monet
“My life has been nothing but a failure.”
— Claude Monet
“I am following Nature without being able to grasp her, I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
— Claude Monet
“No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition.”
— Claude Monet
“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.”
— Claude Monet
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
— Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh
“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”
— Claude Monet
“The older I become the more I realize of that I have to work very hard to reproduce what I search: the instantaneous. The influence of the atmosphere on the things and the light scattered throughout.”
— Claude Monet
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Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)
Claude Monet, also known as Oscar Claude Monet or Claude Oscar Monet, was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant).
In 1845, his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy. His father wanted him to go into the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer.
On the first of April 1851, Monet entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts. Locals knew him well for his charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for ten to twenty francs. Monet also undertook his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard, a former student of Jacques-Louis David. On the beaches of Normandy in about 1856/1857 he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin taught Monet "en plein air" (outdoor) techniques for painting. Both received the influence of Johan Barthold Jongkind.
On 28 January 1857 his mother died. At the age of sixteen, he left school and went to live with his widowed childless aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre.
When Monet traveled to Paris to visit the Louvre, he witnessed painters copying from the old masters. Having brought his paints and other tools with him, he would instead go and sit by a window and paint what he saw. Monet was in Paris for several years and met other young painters who would become friends and fellow impressionists; among them was Édouard Manet.
In June 1861, Monet joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria for a seven-year commitment, but, two years later, after he had contracted typhoid fever, his aunt Marie-Jeanne Lecadre intervened to get him out of the army if he agreed to complete an art course at an art school. It is possible that the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, whom Monet knew, may have prompted his aunt on this matter. Disillusioned with the traditional art taught at art schools, in 1862 Monet became a student of Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley. Together they shared new approaches to art, painting the effects of light en plein air with broken color and rapid brushstrokes, in what later came to be known as Impressionism.
Monet’s Camille or The Woman in the Green Dress (La femme à la robe verte), painted in 1866, brought him recognition and was one of many works featuring his future wife, Camille Doncieux; she was the model for the figures in The Woman in the Garden of the following year, as well as for On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868, pictured here. Shortly thereafter, Camille became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Jean.
Franco-Prussian War, Impressionism, and Argenteuil
After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870), Monet took refuge in England in September 1870. While there, he studied the works of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, both of whose landscapes would serve to inspire Monet’s innovations in the study of color. In the Spring of 1871, Monet’s works were refused authorisation for inclusion in the Royal Academy exhibition.
In May 1871, he left London to live in Zaandam, in the Netherlands, where he made twenty-five paintings (and the police suspected him of revolutionary activities). He also paid a first visit to nearby Amsterdam. In October or November 1871, he returned to France. Monet lived from December 1871 to 1878 at Argenteuil, a village on the right bank of the Seine river near Paris, and a popular Sunday-outing destination for Parisians, where he painted some of his best known works. In 1874, he briefly returned to Holland.
In 1872, he painted Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant) depicting a Le Havre landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and is now displayed in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. From the painting’s title, art critic Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism", which he intended as disparagement but which the Impressionists appropriated for themselves.
Also in this exhibition was a painting titled Boulevard des Capucines, a painting of the boulevard done from the photographer Nadar’s apartment at no. 35. There were, however, two paintings by Monet of the boulevard: one is now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the other in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. It has never become clear which painting appeared in the groundbreaking 1874 exhibition, though more recently the Moscow picture has been favoured.
Monet and Camille Doncieux had married just before the war (28 June 1870) and, after their excursion to London and Zaandam, they had moved to Argenteuil, in December 1871. It was during this time that Monet painted various works of modern life. Camille became ill in 1876. They had a second son, Michel, on 17 March 1878, (Jean was born in 1867). This second child weakened her already fading health. In that same year, he moved to the village of Vétheuil. On 5 September 1879, Camille Monet died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-two; Monet painted her on her death bed.
After several difficult months following the death of Camille, a grief-stricken Monet (resolving never to be mired in poverty again) began in earnest to create some of his best paintings of the 19th century. During the early 1880s, Monet painted several groups of landscapes and seascapes in what he considered to be campaigns to document the French countryside. His extensive campaigns evolved into his series’ paintings.
Camille Monet had become ill with tuberculosis in 1876. Pregnant with her second child she gave birth to Michel Monet in March 1878. In 1878 the Monets temporarily moved into the home of Ernest Hoschedé, (1837-1891), a wealthy department store owner and patron of the arts. Both families then shared a house in Vétheuil during the summer. After her husband (Ernest Hoschedé) became bankrupt, and left in 1878 for Belgium, in September 1879, and while Monet continued to live in the house in Vétheuil; Alice Hoschedé helped Monet to raise his two sons, Jean and Michel, by taking them to Paris to live alongside her own six children. They were Blanche Hoschedé Monet, (She eventually married Jean Monet), Germaine, Suzanne Hoschedé, Marthe, Jean-Pierre, and Jacques.
In the spring of 1880, Alice Hoschedé and all the children left Paris and rejoined Monet still living in the house in Vétheuil. In 1881, all of them moved to Poissy which Monet hated. In April 1883, from the window of the little train between Vernon and Gasny he discovered Giverny. They then moved to Vernon, then to a house in Giverny, Eure, in Upper Normandy, where he planted a large garden where he painted for much of the rest of his life. Following the death of her estranged husband, Alice Hoschedé married Claude Monet in 1892.
At the beginning of May 1883, Monet and his large family rented a house and 2 acres (8,100 m2) from a local landowner. The house was situated near the main road between the towns of Vernon and Gasny at Giverny. There was a barn that doubled as a painting studio, orchards and a small garden. The house was close enough to the local schools for the children to attend and the surrounding landscape offered an endless array of suitable motifs for Monet’s work. The family worked and built up the gardens and Monet’s fortunes began to change for the better as his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had increasing success in selling his paintings. By November 1890, Monet was prosperous enough to buy the house, the surrounding buildings and the land for his gardens.
During the 1890s, Monet built a greenhouse and a second studio, a spacious building well lit with skylights. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s through the end of his life in 1926, Monet worked on "series" paintings, in which a subject was depicted in varying light and weather conditions. His first series exhibited as such was of Haystacks, painted from different points of view and at different times of the day. Fifteen of the paintings were exhibited at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1891. He later produced several series of paintings including: Rouen Cathedral, Poplars, the Parliament, Mornings on the Seine, and the Water Lilies that were painted on his property at Giverny.
Monet was exceptionally fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.
He wrote daily instructions to his gardening staff, precise designs and layouts for plantings, and invoices for his floral purchases and his collection of botany books. As Monet’s wealth grew, his garden evolved. He remained its architect, even after he hired seven gardeners.
Between 1883 and 1908, Monet traveled to the Mediterranean, where he painted landmarks, landscapes, and seascapes, such as Bordighera. He painted an important series of paintings in Venice, Italy, and in London he painted two important series—views of Parliament and views of Charing Cross Bridge. His second wife, Alice, died in 1911 and his oldest son Jean, who had married Alice’s daughter Blanche, Monet’s particular favourite, died in 1914. After his wife died, Blanche looked after and cared for him. It was during this time that Monet began to develop the first signs of cataracts.
During World War I, in which his younger son Michel served and his friend and admirer Clemenceau led the French nation, Monet painted a series of Weeping Willow trees as homage to the French fallen soldiers. In 1923, he underwent two operations to remove his cataracts: the paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye, this may have had an effect on the colors he perceived. After his operations, he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before the operation.
Monet and the Study of Light
So far we have seen and presented Monet’s painting works. As photography enthusiasts, what does this mean for us? The answer to that question lies in the studies that he made about the effects of light. Painters, before the time of the Impressionists like Monet, brought their subjects into the studio, or sketches of landscapes into the studio. They would then paint during a limited period of the day so they could use the same lighting from one sitting to the next.
The Impressionists broke with that tradition by going into the countryside, en plein aire, to paint their canvases. This allowed them to capture nature in all of its changing glory. This led Monet to paint the same objects repeatedly in different lighting conditions. Monet used the façade of the cathedral in Rouen as one of these objects. He would paint it in morning light, in the bright sun, in hazy sun, at sunset. In this way, he studied the “moods” of the cathedral at the various times of day.
We, as photographers, learn very quickly that the time of day greatly affects the scenes that we photograph. This comes through in the tonality of both black and white photos and color photos; we can capture both the content and the mood of our subjects by attending to the lighting. So let’s continue our examination of Monet. GLB
Fernandez, on his blog “TheArtWolf”, describes the differences light makes on the Rouen Cathedral. We incorporate some of his observations here:
The representation of a same pictorial object at different moments with the aim of observing the changes caused by the natural light was not new for Monet, who between 1890 and 1891 had already created a series of 15 canvases representing a group of haystacks in the outskirts of Giverny. These haystacks are painted under the summer sun, in the sunset or in the dusk; at the end of the summer, in the heat of winter or in the early spring. The paintings must be seen more like an interest for the dynamic nature that for a pictorial-scientist theory (Monet himself declared that "I have always hated those awful theories"). The series was praised by the critics and was a great commercial success. Wassily Kandinsky had the opportunity of seeing one of these haystacks in an exhibition in Moscow in 1895, and was impressed to the point of suggesting it as the first abstract painting of the Art history: "And suddenly, for the first time, I saw a picture. I read in the catalogue that was a haystack, but I could not recognize it (.) I realized that there the object of the picture was missed (.) What I had perfectly present was the unsuspected -and until then hidden- power of the palette"
But with the Cathedral series Monet goes even beyond: Here the aim is not to represent a tangible model -as it happened in the haystacks ones- under different luminance and climatic conditions. In the Rouen Cathedral series, the authentic protagonist is not the architectonic model, in a certain sense "despised" by Monet, who use a point of view extremely nearby, of such form that the architecture, due to the almost complete absence of perspective, loses its grandeur and it’s even sectioned in the towers and pinnacles: so the building is here not more than a background, an "excuse", to show the authentic protagonist of the composition: the power of the painting to represent the dynamic quality of the light and the atmosphere, capable of giving life to something so stony and inanimate as the imposing facade of the Gothic Cathedral. That what Kandinsky was able to decipher in the haystacks is here more than evident.
Evidently, among the 31 canvases of the Cathedral series there are more differences than those caused by the different conditions of light and atmosphere. Monet chose five different points of view – two from the square and three from different rooms in the building opposite to the Cathedral- representing the Cathedral’s portal (frontally or with the point of view slightly displaced to the right), or the portal and the d’Albane tower (to the left of the portal), but always conserving that unusually nearby point of view. 25 of these views are dated 1894, another one is dated 1893, and five are signed but not dated. However, as Monet finished most of views in his workshop, it’s more important the date in which each canvas was started (mostly 1892 and 1893). The election of the palette reflects the different shades in which the daily light was dyeing the Cathedral facade: form the smooth blues of the morning (fig 2 and 3) to the vivid ochre and golden shades in the soleil pictures (fig 4, 5, 6 and 7) and browns and greys in the cloudy days (fig 8 and 9)
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Clarence John Laughlin…
Wikipedia: Claude Monet and Rouen Cathedral…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Web Site: Claude Monet…
theartwolf.com: Claude Monet — The Rouen Cathedral…
BrainyQuote.com: Claude Monet…