Monet Essay, Research Paper
Claude Monet is one of the most familiar and best loved of all Western artists. His images of poppy fields, poplar trees, water lilies and elegant ladies in blossoming gardens are familiar to people who have never seen the original paintings and may never have visited an art gallery. Monet’s works have won a place in the affection of the general public that seems almost without parallel. (Rachman, 4) In the decades since his death in 1926, Monet’s work has been intensely studied by a variety of art critics. However, none of his works have been as deeply studied as those done in Giverny, in the early twentieth century. During this time Monet’s paintings, which focused on specific subject matter from various viewpoints, became the most famous of his career and also the most analyzed, bringing forth a variety of different opinions.
Monet’s parents were members of the lower middle class, the ‘petite bourgeoisie’. His father, Claude Adolphe Monet, had been enrolled in the merchant navy at the channel port of Le Havre. However, in 1835, when he married Louise-Justine Aubry, he was living in Paris. The couple’s first son, Leon, was born in 1836, and their second and last child was born on November 14, 1840 and baptized Oscar-Claude Monet. Monet’s parents seemed to have kept some sort of shop there, but it apparently did not flourish, and around 1845 they left Paris for Le Havre. There Claude Adolphe had a half-sister who had married into a prosperous merchant family. Marie-Jeanne Lecardre was some years older than Monet’s father, and her husband was willing to employ him in their grocery business. In 1857 Monet’s mother died and his aunt, childless, artistic and comparatively wealthy, became the main supporter of his early art career. (Gordon, 35)
Monet’s early training as an artist seems to have been confined to conventional drawing lessons at the school he attended in Le Havre. He and his brother were sent to the local secondary school, which provided a traditional education in the classical languages and commerce. Leon went on to study chemistry, a serious and solid profession in which he did well, but Oscar-Claude was of less credit to his parents. He claimed that ’school always felt like a prison’. As an elderly man he insisted that he had never paid attention to lessons, spending his tome doodling, ‘I drew garlands in the margins…and covered the blue paper of my exercise books with the most bizarre ornaments’. At some time between 1855 and 1857 Monet left school and expressed the wish to become a painter. (Gordon, 37)
By the time he was seventeen, Monet was already making money from his work and had won a local reputation as a caricaturist. Skillful and amusing, his caricatures were displayed in the window of a local frame maker, Monsieur Gravier, where they drew crowds of appreciative viewers. Gravier also displayed paintings by the landscape painter Eugene Boudin, who was an old friend of his. Monet’s development of friendship and informal tutelage of Boudin proved to be formative for Monet’s future direction as a landscape painter. (Gordon, 38)
In 1859, Monet set off to study painting in Paris. Paying his way with the 2,000 francs saved from the sales of his caricatures, he set himself up in the city with supreme confidence. During this time Monet was living a very bohemian type of lifestyle, selling whatever paintings possible in order support himself. In 1865, Monet began to regularly submit works to the Salon, one of the largest and most prestigious window shops in France, which posted the works of ‘up and coming’ artists. During the 1860’s audiences were enormous, up to 400,000 visitors for a single exhibition, and the publicity generated by a good Salon review could make an unknown painter rich and fashionable within a year. After one exhibition the conservative critic, Paul Mantz, commented positively on Monet’s The Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide and the painting was sold to print publisher and dealer, Alfred Cadart, for 300 francs. This was the first time Monet had sold a serious work in Paris, and it had gone to good company. (Gordon, 41)
Monet’s reputation was now one of a serious artist and set him on his way towards public recognition. His name continued to grow throughout the 1870’s as he developed his unique painting style and proceeded to sell his paintings, forming his own group of collectors. (Gordon, 41)
When Monet moved to Giverny in 1883, the town was similar to most of the farming communities that lay along the Seine between Paris and Rouen. It had a modest church, communal school, town hall, a few taverns and family owned shops. Quiet and picturesque, it had no claim to historical significance and counted no more than 279 residents. The pink stucco house that Monet rented was one of the largest structures in the town and sat on a sizable portion of land. The rue De l’Amiscourt, which wound into the village, bordered the back of the house. Stretching out in front of the house were nearly two and a half acres that the former occupants had converted into a kitchen garden with rows of vegetables interspersed with fruit trees and berry bushes. (Tucker, 175)
When the property came up for sale in November 1890, Monet quickly met the asking price of 22,000 francs. He then set up plans for dramatic changes to the property, tearing down the kitchen garden and fruit trees, in order to create lavish flower gardens surrounding the house and extending throughout the property. Monet spent a great deal of money and time on this project, subscribing to horticultural magazines, consulting encyclopedias, ordering seeds from around the world, and consulting friends. He also extended his property in order to construct a large water lily pond, surrounding it with mysterious, foreign, Eastern plants and trees. Through these efforts, not only did Monet create a site that would become one of the most visited in France; he also developed a site that would consume the subject matter of his paintings for the next two decades. (Tucker, 177)
Monet began his series of Water Lily series in the late 1890’s. His first major group of garden pictures followed the method of the series, taking a single subject and studying it intensively. Between 1904 and 1908 he created over 150 paintings of the lily pond in the Japanese garden. Each year he began a new group with a different viewpoint. He said that he wished these ‘water landscapes’ to be ‘works of no weather and no season’. (Tucker, 177)
Carla Rachman, one of the critics of Monet’s Water Lily series, takes an artistic point of view on these works. Her belief is that Monet was trying to portray different artistic skills in the paintings through point of view, depth, and color. (287) “The process of universalization in Monet’s paintings could not go much farther; all that is left in the last generation of Giverny paintings is water, plants, earth and sky.” (Rachman, 287) As the subjects become more abbreviated and the canvases grow in size, the viewer’s attention is diverted from the subject to the surface of the picture. Rachman believes Monet was essentially depicting a surface without depth. (287) “He was looking both at and into the pool, simultaneously aware of the transparent and weedy depths and the deceptively bright reflections bobbing above them.” (Rachman, 287)
“Many of the most challenging pictures in this series appear to depict evening effects.” (Rachman, 289) This is suggested by the fading light in the scenes and the way that Monet muddies his palette. Seductive pinks and greens all of the sudden become moodier mauves and murkier olives, mediation and seriousness replacing charm and delight. (Rachman, 289)
Rachman believes that “water landscapes” is a good name for these paradoxical paintings, which could also be entitled “water skyscapes”, for the land is reduced to a rim or is entirely absent. (289) The horizon has disappeared and if there is sky below the land, inverting the normal relationship, often the water fills the whole in the foreground. Monet’s occasional use of circular canvases, in this series, serves further to distort the perceptions of the spectator. The pictures are oddly disorienting in their refusal to provide the usual firm viewpoint of the Western painting. (Rachman, 289)
However, there are some critics who look deeper into these paintings, past the artistic devices used, in search of a greater meaning. Paul Hayes Tucker is one such critic who finds the subject matter to be Monet’s way of relating nature to human. (190)
“By focusing almost exclusively on his gardens for the last two decades of his life, Monet was not emptying his art of significance, just the opposite. Monet asserts the primacy of an individual vision and everyone’s ability to find meaning in the fundamental relation of the human to the natural. Through his works he insists that once people come to know themselves better, they could recognize their place in the larger whole.” (Tucker, 190)
These ideas are evident in the extended group of paintings that Monet produced of his gardens in the series Water Lilies. (Tucker, 190)
In Tucker’s view what is most important in the Water Lily series, however, is the endless array of relationships that Monet has presented for the viewer to discover. (193) The interaction between the various clusters of water lilies, for example, or between the horizontal distribution and the reflections around them which are predominately vertical. Equally engaging are the reflections of the foliage in relation to the water’s evident depth. Even the undergrowth along the edges of the pond play a role as they rise up to greet the bridge on either side, often twisting to imitate the arched form. It is these kinds of relationships that abound in the picture just as they do in the world. These relationships make the experience meaningful for the viewer: they sharpen one’s senses and clarify one’s own relationship to their physical surroundings. (Tucker, 193) “It is these kinds of relationships, finally, that Monet suggests should be recognized and contemplated, because they have the power to create harmony out of contrast and extract beauty from the mundane.” (Tucker, 194)
Monet’s works during his last years at Giverney are mysteriously beautiful and can be interpreted many ways, holding a different meaning for each individual. I see Monet’s work as objects of wonder and enchantment, which boggle the mind, stimulate thought and provide visual pleasure for the viewer. There is no denying that Monet is probably one of the best-loved artist in the world. People who have never even seen any of his actual paintings recognize his work. Monet’s work commands immense prices and a seemingly endless stream of studies and monographs every year and will continue to do so the centuries to come.
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