Impressionism : Monet, The Parisian Painter

Study of a Woman with a Parasol
Musee d'Orsay, Paris Claude Monet

"In Paris, one is too preoccupied by what one sees and what one hears, however strong one is; what I am doing here has, I think, the merit of not resembling anyone because it is simply the expression of what I myself have experienced." 

This is what Claude Monet (1840-1926) wrote to one of his friends. He did not resemble anyone else. That is what the artist Monet was; that is what his paintings displayed, a difference. Not resembling anyone else.

The theme Monet prescribed for his own paintings was impressionism. In fact, he was the first doctor to write the prescription about the impressionism tablet to the Parisian painters. He had a nice brush to write. He did it with spontaneous, broken and skipping brushwork. His paintings are extra rich with tonal values. He searched for and used every hue of the colours he handled. In short, he carried all the luggage an impressionist traveller must have on his or her shoulder. 

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) was a French Impressionist. On his visit to Paris, he too was used to visiting The Louvre, as all the artists did. Though being an expert in using colours Monet had almost renounced the use of black colour in his paintings. Here is what he said about his palate. "I don't think one could paint better or more brightly with another palette. The most important thing is to know how to use colours. Their choice is a matter of habit.” However the master impressionist painter, in his last four or five years of life, Monet had a problem with his eyes and was nearly blind before he died in 1926. Monet died of lung cancer in 1926 at the age of 86. 

Monet Writing about Monet: "I was born un-disciplinable. No one was ever able to make me stick to the rules, not even in my youngest days. It was at home that I learned most of what I do know. I equated my college life with that of prison and I could never resolve to spend my time there, even for four hours a day when the sun was shining bright, the sea was so beautiful and it was so good to run along the cliff-tops in the fresh air or frolic in the sea." - Claude Monet (in his autobiography) 

His paintings and prints made from the paintings decorate many art galleries and private collections. His painting Nympheas - Water Lilies was sold for GBP £16,500,000 (US $32,670,000). This was one of the highest prices paid for Monet's work.

The first thing we notice while seeing his works is his decision about the placement of the focal point. In the dictionary of artists, the focal point is the area in an artwork where the viewers are simply drawn. He just used the colours to establish a focal point, leading our eyes towards it. Here in this painting, Woman with Parasol, study, the direction of the woman’s scarf and the movement of the small plants on the landscape tells much about Monet’s brush strokes. His brush reproduced the impression that the retina of his eyes had registered. Just the first and fresh impression of the scene he painted.

Keeping the impressionist style in vision, here Monet had used the colours to express the shining sunlight. He did it by using his soft brush loaded with bright colours. The complementary colours have their roles to play, making the woman figure in general and the parasol, in particular, looking so elegant. One reality: the models in this painting were Monet's wife and his son, Cammille Monet and Jean Monet. The colours put on the backgrounds are cool, making the feel of an essential distance. All the colours used in this painting were the primary colours: the yellows, the greens, and the blues.

The Art: “What seems most significant to me about our movement [Impressionism] is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.” This is what the master artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir had said about the art of impressionism. 

The art of Impressionist painters is based on the use of colours only. They draw the motive without resorting to the lines. Monet, Renoir and Sisley had very delicate sensations while encountering natural scenes. They tried painting the soul of the scene. Along with the natural scenes, they painted liberty, too.

The artists visiting the Paris museum generally engaged themselves in copying the painters displayed therein. But there was a man: Claude Monet. He was not interested in copying; he would look outside of the Museum windows and paint what he would see there. From the day Claude Monet named one of the famous paintings as ‘Impression Sunrise’, the movement is known by that name, the impressionist painting. Monet was a prolific artist of the impressionist movement. Monet was consistent in believing in the philosophy of expressing one's perceptions. 

Impression, Soleil levant (Impression, sunrise)
Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris Claude Monet

Started in the late nineteenth century, the theme or style is known as Impressionism is not only the painting in the open air. In France, particularly in Paris, there was a group of artists who had agreed to share impressionism techniques and related procedures. They tried painting the momentary effects of light onto their canvases. On the part of the impressionist artists, the element that made their work so elegant was the artists' determination to paint the truth before their eyes. They did not paint mere reality, they also revealed how they had perceived reality, too. It was the factor of perception that got crept into the paintings of these artists. And that made the paintings of the impressionists so attractive. 

The movement called impressionism got its name fro one of the paintings by Monet: Impression, Soleil levant (Impression, sunrise). In his painting, Claude Monet did not paint just the presence of the objects painted; but he portrayed a crowd of other features: the seeing of reality, the act of perception itself, and the feeling of here and now. If we were to describe what Monet was, there can be no better words in which the master artist Paul Cezanne had described him in these words, “Monet is only an eye, but good God, what an eye.” Apart from Claude Monet, there were several other impressionist master artists who have made their name and fame. Some of them are Renoir, Frederic Bazille, Berth Morisot, Edgar Degas and Paul Cezanne.

About the war of perception, the impressionist artists had to face severe opposition. Those who were in favour of conventional forms of art in Paris, they had reason to oppose. They did oppose. But losing no time, the style of impressionism had spread to other forms of artistic representations, too. The music and films were the first to explore the frontiers of impressionism.

The Artist: Monet demonstrated how light, especially bright light, performed while infusing the colours and forms involved in the scene. He had sharp eyes. He evaluated fully what would be lying before his eyes. The real key of Monet's paintings making so beautiful was his spontaneous brush-work; he broke the brush strokes when it is needed, and he skipped putting colours when he felt doing so. This was how Monet's brush acted. He used the richness of his palate well. Monet did this magic of converting the beauty of nature on his canvases by using his palette. The palette carried fast and subdued colours; the palate remained full of contrasting colours. Just by sitting in front of the subject to be painted, Monet used all the tones of the colours, all the hues of the colours. 

Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge - Claude Monet 
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton,
New Jersey, USA 

Monet experienced doing different versions of his own paintings. Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge was the painting, based on which he had done maximum versions, at least six. This was one of the most famous masterpieces of his art. Presently the painting is displed at Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. It is oil on canvas, size 90 cm X 90 cm, Monet painted it in the year 1899.  

The use of contrasting and complementing colours was the hallmark of the impressionist artists.  In this painting Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge Monet used prime colours like green. By using various shades of green, Monet has succeded to infuse solidarity in the painting. We hardly see a painting wherein the green colour is used in almost every shade of it. The complementary colour is yellow. Monet had moved from Paris to a nearby country town Giverny. The dark green I the background and light in the front ground: that is Monet's scheme on the canvas. It created the impressive feeling of the distance. The gardens of the town fascinated him. This painting was the product of his love for the gardens of the town he lived in.

The paintings titled Water Lily Pond and Japanese bridge are among these types of painting series. The painting given here is one of the eighteen paintings of one scene Monet had painted during the year 1899. He used colours depicting the light of the day in such a way as if he wanted to show us how the relationship between the characteristics of the colours and the light could be established. Monet's paintings done in several moods are known as Haystacks, Views of Seine and paintings of River Thames.

Cap de Antibes by Claude Monet

The impressionist artists were known for their spontaneity. Monet displayed his share of spontaneity in most of his landscapes. Look at this painting Cap de Antibes. A small tree, looking just an unnoticed tree, has been put in front of the art piece. The detailed work is executed for the tree, making it a nearby and prominent figure on the canvas. The landscape details are put into the background. The subdued colours are used for the background for creating the feel of the distance. 

If we scrutinise the scene in the painting, we can see the presence of the wind all over the canvas. That is the beauty of impressionist painting. That is the skill of impressionist artists. The technique would put life into the core of the colours. He was a man of innovation and pioneering work. As his career advanced, he kept improving his own style of painting, too. He started painting a series of canvases, painting the same scene as it looked at a different time of the day. It allowed Monet to allow his artistic vision about painting sunlight in different stages of the day. In the different moods of the sunlight, the structures of the subjects looked being dissolved allowing space for the vision of the artist. Monet had his own way of painting, especially the water. His paintings of small streams sparkled with flurries of light, which moved canvas with the shower of light and joy.   [All the paintings are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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