Impressionism is a 19th century art movement that originated with a group of artists based in Paris. Claude Monet can be considered as one of the “founding fathers” of Impressionism. The term “Impressionism”, referred to the art movement, originated from one of Monet’s paintings (Impressions, soleil levant). Monet’s style of painting captures the essence of Impressionism. Monet’s early work was more oriented towards realism and depicted contemporary subjects such as streets, nature and people. Monet was inspired part by Edouard Manet and he gradually began to develop a distinctive style of his own. He soon departed from distinctive lines that defined the shapes of objects and linear perspective. Paintings such as Jardin à Sainte-Adresse, are characteristic of his early style. In his middle years, Monet clearly defined his style through the use of opaque colours, light and short, fast brushstrokes. Claude Monet’s painting subjects revolved mainly around nature and city scapes. Characteristic for Impressionist painters, Monet painted en plein air (outdoors). Painting outdoors allowed Monet and his fellow artists to capture a moment of the fleeting nature and create directly their own impression. Wherever he went, Monet set up his own painting studio and painted his subject at first hand instead of relying on memory.
That way the viewer can really “experience” the nature through the painting. Monet often painted a series of the same subject to capture the changing effects of light, swapping canvases as the day progressed. This is the case with his series on poplars on the River Epte, haystacks in a field, the cliffs of Etretat and the Rouen Cathedral. However, none of his paintings in a series are identical. Each series demonstrates the changing nature of light, reflections and the seasons. Another popular source of inspiration for Monet was his own garden at Giverny where he was fascinated by reflections and flowers, particularly the effects of water lilies on the water.. In fact, Monet’s principle interest throughout his life was water. He painted water in all its forms from rough rivers to peaceful surfaces of ponds and seas.
Monet used a very limited palette. His preferred medium was oil paint. Interestingly, he completely eliminated browns and never used black. People were very curious at the time about how he achieved to use a limited set of colours (to be precise, only six). Monet said: “The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all’s said and done, a matter of habit. Anyway, I use flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue, emerald green, and that’s all.” However, in his later years all of Monet’s paintings have less blue and more yellow and red due to the fact that he was suffering from eye cataracts. Most of Monet’s paintings have rough surfaces which gives a sense of texture to the whole composition. He created texture by using the “impasto” technique. Impasto is the technique of applying paint thickly to the canvas. Monet never faded his brushstrokes. He never tried to make them disappear into a solid block of colour. His strokes remain clearly visible on the surfaces of all his paintings. He avoided distinctive, defined lines of objects. He used dots and short, fast, thick brushstrokes of colour to indicate various forms.
These thick brushstrokes captured the essence of an object and not so much the detail (the style is Impressionism after all and the artist creates an impression not a detailed anatomic study). Monet never mixed his colours on his palette and then applied them on canvas. Instead he used them straight from the tube, applying them directly. Like all of the Impressionist artists, Monet placed wet paint on wet paint. He did not wait for the bottom layer to dry but rather applied one layer on top of another while it was all still fresh. Monet rarely mixed his colours and used the technique known as “broken colour”. He placed the paint on top of each other, or side by side with dynamic brushstrokes. It is almost like an optical illusion because the colours merge in the viewer’s eyes from a distance. However, the most important element of Monet’s style of painting is his use of light.
The light in his paintings create an atmosphere. A characteristic of Impressionist style, which Monet cleverly used, was not to create three dimensional effects of objects using shadow and light. For Monet, colour was determined by the effect of light. When painting reflections, the light in Monet’s composition is doubled. The effects of light in his paintings can be best experienced through his series paintings. In the 1890s, Monet painted groups of huge canvases. As previously mentioned, Monet painted the same subject from the same angle at different times of the day or different seasons. The purpose was to discover how the changes in the amount of light would change the shapes, mood and images of the subject. When painting his famous series of haystacks, Monet took multiple canvases to the field and worked for about fifteen minutes on each painting. As the angle of the sun changed, the colours and shadows changed too. Each painting in his series creates a distinct atmosphere, a shifting mood. Monet treated the changing light on a subject almost as an experiment. The stunning effects of light are one of the elements that define Monet as, perhaps, the most influential Impressionist artist. List of Series:
* Antibes (5 paintings)
* Charing Cross Bridge (16 paintings)
* Haystacks (15 paintings)
* House of Parliament (12 paintings)
* Lunch on the Grass (5 paintings)
* Mount Kolsaas (6 paintings)
* Rouen Cathedral (28 paintings)
* Saint-Lazare Station (9 paintings)
* The Church at Varengevile (4 paintings)
* The Doges’ Palace Seen from San Giorgio Maggiore (6 paintings)
* The Grand Canal (6 paintings)
* The House seen from the Rose Garden (6 paintings)
* The Japanese Bridge (24 paintings)
* The Manneport (12 paintings)
* The Pyramids at Port-Coton (3 paintings)
* The Seine at Vetheuil (5 paintings)
* Three Trees (4 paintings)
* Villas at Bordighera (3 paintings)
* Water Lilies (105 paintings)
* Waterloo Bridge (25 paintings)
* Wisteria (5 paintings)