AOTW #9: Waterlilies, Dreams and Reflections: The breathtaking Art of Claude Monet.
Founder of Impressionism, and waterlily obsessive, Claude Monet, dedicated his life to plein air painting, with many of his most famous works inspired by, and painted, in his own garden.
Last week we hosted a Dream Garden painting workshop at the Pankow shelter, encouraging the children to imagine and draw their dream garden. Given the theme, it seems only right to dedicate this weeks 'Artist of the Week' to one of the most prolific garden painters in the world: Claude Monet.
Born in 1840, Monet became one of the shining stars of the French Impressionist Movement, his work widely regarded as a vital catalyst for the birth of Modern Art. This is due to his radical use of bold brush strokes and strong colours, paving the way for the more experimental art forms of the 20th century.
Nympheas (Waterlilies) II (1915), image via Draw Paint Academy
Monet was particularly interested in the relationship between colour and light, his pallet becoming increasingly exuberant towards the end of his life. He attributes his obsession with colour, in part, to his brief stint in Algeria, where he was drafted for military service. He left after a year due to health reasons, and whilst he hated his time in the army, remarked much later that the bright colours of North Africa, "contained the germ of my future researches." He continued to experiment with colour his whole life, developing a unique style typified by bright colours applied directly onto the canvas with dabs, dashes and squiggles.
"I like to paint as a bird sings." - Monet
Alongside contemporaries such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley, Monet rejected the constrictive norms of the artistic establishment, forming a group which later become known as the 'Impressionists'. Impressionism seeks to capture the aesthetic impression of an object or scene, rather than focus on its form and composition. Central to its philosophy is an emphasis on nature and painting outdoors, or 'en plein air'. Impressionism is more abstract than the styles which preceded it, with a much stronger emphasis on light and how it interacts and contrasts with object, colour and canvas.
'The Woman in the Garden' (1886), image via Claude Monet Gallery
This is one of Monet's earliest garden paintings, made in 1886 for the Paris Salon. 'The Women in the Garden' was so large, that Monet had to dig the canvas into the ground to maintain consistent lighting and perspective! Unfortunately, his work was rejected by The Salon, who weren't keen on his heavy brush strokes, with one judge commenting, "Too many young people think of nothing but continuing in this abominable direction. It is high time to protect them and save art!"
The Impressionist focus on changing colour and light was in stark contrast to the traditional artistic preferences of the time, upheld by establishments such as the Académie des Beaux-Arts. After moving to Paris in the early 1860's, Monet became disillusioned by the conservatism of the art schools, so instead became a student of Charles Gleyre, where he met Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. Together they developed their own style of painting, eventually forming a collective called 'Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs' (Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers). Their first independent exhibition was held in 1874 as an act of defiance against the Salon du Paris (the annual exhibition hosted by Académie des Beaux-Arts, to which they weren't invited).
'Impression, soleil levant' (1874), image via Wikipedia
"Le papier peint à l'état embryonnaire est encore plus fait que cette marine-là!" (The wallpaper in the embryonic state is even more done than this navy!) Scoffs art critic, Leroy, when speaking about Monet's painting.
After their first exhibition, the group began to call themselves 'Impressionnistes' (Impressionists). This was in response to the art critic Louis Leroy, who wrote a scathing article, 'L'Exposition des Impressionnistes', in reference to Monet's piece 'Impression, soleil levant' (Impression, Sunrise). Whilst the article was negative, with Leroy naming them 'Impressionistes' as a way of implying that their paintings were immature and not fully formed, the group liked the name and adopted it.
Water Lilies III, (1914), image via Draw Paint Academy
Monet liked to study one scene or object from multiple perspectives, and in different shades of light, creating many canvases depicting the same scene. After years of painting both urban and rural scenes, most notably his Rouen Cathedral, poplar, haystack and Thames series, Monet moved to Giverny with his family in 1883, where he rented, and later bought a property and the surrounding land. Monet remained in Giverny for the remainder of his life, devoting much of his time to transforming his garden into a sensory delight of flowers, ponds and bridges.
“I’m good for nothing except painting and gardening.” - Monet
Monet's favourite botanical muse, and inspiration for his most famous series of works was the water lily. Monet loved waterlilies, sourcing various types from places such as South America, and growing them in his pond. The local authorities demanded that he remove all the waterlilies, fearing that they could poison the water supply, but Monet ignored them.
Resting on the surface of the water, framed by a traditional Japanese bridge, the resulting scene captured Monet's heart, and he spent the next twenty years painting his waterlily's at various stages of maturity and time of day. It is estimated that he made around 250 oil paintings of waterlilies!
Water Lilies Red, (1914-1919), image via Draw Paint Academy
After a traumatic period of degenerative sight loss, Monet opted for cataracts surgery in 1923, which cured his blindness but permanently altered his vision, and subsequently affected his art. While the cataracts effected his vision, he painted his waterlilies with a reddish tone, however, post-op he began to paint them blue. Despite the distressing nature of his deteriorating sight, the waterlily series made by Monet during the last stages of his life are some of the best of his career. The incandescent colours and shapes used by Monet in his paintings are widely believed to represent some of the first examples of abstract art, and continue to inspire millions to this day.
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