Monday, September 14, 2009

Claude Monet

This is Claude Oscar Monet. Born 14 November 1840, and hands down the most prolific of the Impressionist painters, with more than 2500 paintings under his belt.

Fact is, Monet helped a gallery owner and critic, Louis Leroy, coin the term "Impressionism". Leroy had thought Monet's original title of "Sunrise" for his sunrise landscape too boring, and with Leroy's probing into Monet's style and inspiration, it became "Impression of Sunrise".

Impression of Sunrise, c. 1872

And so began the Impressionist Era, with Monet heading the band, waxing lyrical about painting interpretations of light rather than straightforward images, capturing the emotion of a moment rather than the visual of a moment.

The Impressionists famously never used the colour black in any of their work. Instead they created their dark palette with mixes of blues, reds and greens. For they believed that even shadows are forms of light, and deserved to be expressed in colour.

Monet was the first artist to "play" with light, with his series paintings. He would do a series of paintings of the same subject, but in varying times of the day, to capture the different tones of light, and appreciate the differences. His famous ones are Haystacks and the Rouen Cathedral.

To this extent, Monet remained staunch. This deep respect and understanding of light for what it was, and not what it looked like as part of an obvious whole. I mean, he saw a blade of grass as a dance of greens, blues and yellows, as opposed to a blade of grass. You know what I mean?

What amazes me is the fact that he continued painting and produced some of his finest work, even as he went increasingly blind with cataracts, well into his sixties.

Below are two paintings of the same subject, the Japanese Bridge in his garden. The one entilted "Japanese Bridge" was done in 1899. The one below that, in 1923, when his cataracts had gotten the better of his sight.

Japanese Bridge c. 1899

"My bad sight means that I see everything through a mist. Even so it is beautiful, and that's what I would like to show."

- Claude Monet

Waterlily Pond, c. 1923

Interestingly, Monet's cataracts filtered the colours he perceived and, because he painted what he saw, he gradually began to abandon his blues, and his paintings became increasingly awash in reds and yellows. Fact it, he didn't need to be able to see the Japanese Bridge. He was happy just enjoying the light of it.

By the end of 1922, Money could no longer see enough to paint, and so he stopped. Under the advice of his good friend George Clemenceau, he underwent an operation, and managed to regain sight in his right eye, with the help of special glasses. But he refused have his left eye operated.

Thus, Monet resumed painting. With the operated right eye seeing in blue, and the ailing cataract left eye seeing in reds and yellows. The result is below, "The House Seen From The Roses Garden". This was his first painting after the operation on his right eye.

The House Seen from the Rose Garden, c. 1922

My personal favourite Monet remains "Garden Path at Giverny" done in 1902. I love the vibrant colours, the speckly bits that seem like every single little flower and bud is swaying in the breeze, and the way I can almost breathe in the fresh air of the very garden path. It holds a certain peace, glorious yet humble, celebratory and appreciative, all reflected in both Monet's surroundings and his life. I swear I border on tears everytime I scrutinise this.

Garden Path in Giverny, c. 1902

(Plus I can SO see a pair of chandeliers earrings, of mandarin and rhodolite garnets, peridots, amethysts, freshwater pearls, carnelians, iolites, hessonites... ah, GORGEOUS!)

More than anything else though, I like the entire circumstance under which this painting was done. Monet was in his fifties, and had by now, earned himself enough money to live comfortably with his family in a sprawling countryside estate. He was as far away from the standard image of "starving/womanising/scandal-ridden/drug-addict" artist as you can get. Instead, he was financially sound, with a loving wife and family. You could also say he defied the norm by being a "blind" artist!

He passed the rest of his time and days cultivating, designing and landscaping his gorgeous garden grounds, with the help of gardeners and landscape artists. All so that he could enjoy putting it down on canvas, as how he saw light hit them. With or without cataracts.

Monet passed away peacefully on 5 December 1926, having completed his last painting just a few months before.


  1. I recently bought a print of "Garden Path in Giverny". It's huge ! I know the artist painted on a large scale but still I was dumbstruck when it arrived.
    It really does illuminate the area of my house where it hangs.
    Great post :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mark! They sure don't make 'em like they used to...;)