Nympheas, c. 1897-1898
Art,  English

The Genius of Monet: Artistic Evolution and Visual Poetry

The text below is the excerpt from the book The ultimate book on Claude Monet (ISBN: 9781783105021), written by Natalia Brodskaïa and Nina Kalitina, published by Parkstone International.

It is light that becomes the “hero” of each painting, dictating its own laws, colouring objects in various ways, imparting either solidity or transparency, and altering contours by either rendering the boundaries of forms uncertain, or making them perceptible only as sharp silhouettes. At Giverny, series painting became one of Monet’s chief working procedures. Thirty years later he recounted how he had arrived at it.

Argenteuil, c. 1872, Claude Monet
Argenteuil, c. 1872. Oil on canvas, 50.4 x 65.2 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I was painting some haystacks which had caught my eye and which made a terrific group, just a short distance from here. One day I noticed that my light had changed. I said to my stepdaughter, “Go to the house and get me another canvas, if you don’t mind.” She brought it to me, but shortly after, it was different again. Another! And one more! And I wouldn’t work on any of them unless I had my effect, and that was it.

The haystacks became a nearly endless series in his work. He painted them at the very beginning of summer, on the green grass, and in winter, with a thin layer of snow covering them. To Monet’s sensitive eye there was an infinite diversity of colours in this mass of dry, yellowed grass. In various combinations, his red, brown, green, and even blue brushstrokes depicted the way the colours change according to the distribution of light. Monet was remarkably consistent in his approach to his research. He worked like a scholar stubbornly pursuing the objective he had set for himself. The poplar trees along the Epte river also became the object of his painting researches. At first he was attracted to the rhythmic beauty of these soaring trees. Then came the phase of meticulously studying the modifications in their colour.

At the beginning of the 1890s Monet travelled to Rouen. In 1892 he went there to purchase back some of his own paintings that his half-sister Marie had inherited. Monet took a room facing the famous Gothic cathedral. As he was obliged to stay in Rouen for some time, he began to paint the cathedral from his window. He had meant to return to Giverny after several days, but his work absorbed him completely. He painted the cathedral in all weather and at all times of day or night.

A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight, c. 1864, Claude Monet
A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight, c. 1864. Oil on canvas, 60 x 73.8 cm. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.

When lit by the sun at midday the enormous mass of the cathedral dissolved in the hazy heat, its contours became blurred, and the building became lighter and nearly transparent. At night the blue shadows were deeper and denser, and the gothic-filigree stonework of the façade appeared in all its splendour. In reality the motif in Monet’s painting was not Rouen Cathedral at all, it was the light and air of Normandy. The result was a veritable symphony of colours. Art had never, up to that point, seen anything like it. In the spring of 1895 Monet opened his exhibition, where he showed twenty variations of his Rouen Cathedral. Sadly, the critics’ exhortations to the buyers to purchase the series as a whole went unheard, and Monet’s “Cathedrals” were scattered throughout the world.

The meadows of Giverny always remained his favourite motif. In the luxuriantly flowering grass with its poppies exploding in tiny flames, Monet’s practiced eye, trained by years of work, could distinguish a vast number of graded nuances. He created an extremely delicate mosaic on the canvas, composed of tiny brushstrokes of colour. Paul Cézanne, who had criticised Monet for copying unthinkingly from nature, said of him one day, “He’s nothing but an eye.” But, quickly catching himself, he added “But what an eye!” These meadows became his permanent workplace. When a journalist, who had come from Vétheuil to interview Monet, asked him where his studio was, the painter answered, “My studio! I’ve never had a studio, and I can’t see why one would lock oneself up in a room. To draw, yes – to paint, no.” Then, broadly gesturing towards the Seine, the hills, and the silhouette of the little town, he declared, “There’s my real studio.”

Garden in Bloom at Sainte-Adresse, c. 1866, Claude Monet
Garden in Bloom at Sainte-Adresse, c. 1866. Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 53.8 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

He painted a field of poppies, and created the impression of wind not only with the rippling shapes of the trees, but also in the way the painting itself was executed. Brushstrokes of pure colour – red, blue, and green – are applied to the canvas with apparent randomness. The tangle of these colours renders the effect of the grass stirring under the wind’s breath and, in addition, composes a wonderful tapestry. Each fragment of such a landscape, taken separately, amounts to a complete colour composition in itself. Claude Monet was the first of the 19th-century painters to understand the abstract beauty of the canvas’ painted surface…

Some of the featured works of Monet:

The Luncheon (decorative panel), c. 1873, Claude Monet
The Luncheon (decorative panel), c. 1873. Oil on canvas, 160 x 201 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875
Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Nympheas, c. 1897-1898
Nympheas, c. 1897-1898. Oil on canvas, 66 x 104.1 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.

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