International Writers Magazine
Art and Photography:
an oil slick inspire Monets Pond Lily Paintings?
my 300 mm lens at the Oise River shoreline we were hugging to avoid
the wakes created by tankers and freighters ten times our size and
moving twice as fast as our 18 passenger tourist barge, I noticed
something I would never had thought of twice, had our tour group
which was partly leisure and partly studying French Artists, not
seen a slide show and tell about Monet just two hours earlier.
That morning we
had departed Auvers, leaving the memory of Van Gogh behind, and were
now motoring to a landing where a waiting bus would deliver us to Monets
Giverny home. I had big plans there. I would address Monets garden
and pond paintings with my 35 mm camera, in an attempt to match my lens
openings to what I imagined were Monets framings, while also trying
to match the time of day and light condition of his painting hours.
Perhaps it was all that information coming together that led my thinking
as brought my close-up lens into sharp focus. What caught my eye was
an oil slick rotating in a slow eddy dance which continued to catch
the sun at different angles creating a spectrum of revolving colors
and shapes; like a never ending cycle of impressionistic canvases. -During
our lecture, we learned that from his birth in La Havre, sea port for
local and International shipping, Monet was fascinated by water subjects.
at his body of work, it would seem that everything he saw that was
water related found their way onto his canvases: boats, ports, shorelines,
stormy and calm waters; with obvious palette changes as he matured.
In his later years, Marcel Proust applauded Monet with these
lines: "...there would be not flowers on earth, but also flowers
of the water, such tender water lilies as the Master has depicted
in his sublime canvases."
Early samples of
Monets fascination with water themes were "The Pointe de
la Heve at Low Tide". "The Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur"
and "The Beach at Saute Adresse.". Each canvas revealed
a hard edge with strokes bold and heavy from a far darker palette, than
found in his later years. When he returned to Paris seeking La Salon
approval, that same hard edged look and broad strokes was seen, especially
in his fine character study "The Woman In The Green Dress"
which earned him ready approval.
interest, however, soon turned from character studies to landscape.
First, without and then later, with people added. All were done
in his studio until the impressionist Plen Air movement attracted
him to try his hand at painting outdoor scenes in their natural
environment. Monet, who preferred working on enormous canvases,
in studio and out, displayed his Plen Air skills with his "The
Green Wave". There were no waves along my shoreline as I continued
to stare at the moving water, watching it spiral in and out of the
sun, as if they were paintings being made, one after the other,
being stroked by an invisible hand with an invisible brush.And this
is the key to my story.
Photo: David Russell
I considered that
Monet traveling between his home and Paris, a half days journey,
given the choice of going overland or by river boat would chose the
boat. Part of my reasoning was because to paint another water scene
slide I saw that morning "La Grenouillere",
had taken his easel into the river, working from the deck of a small
boat. So the $64,000 question? Had Claude Monet, while on the river
that day or in his water travels seen a swirl of water and light
such as I was now watching. If so, I had to believe these impressionistic
swirls - intended or not - influenced his creative bent and drove
his brush to its impressionistic replication. But many stops filled
the early yeabefore he arrived at that moment. After his Paris stay,
Monet moved into his first real house, at Argenteuil, Becoming accessible
from Paris on the new, French railway system.
Monet a fertile area to continue his systematic pursuit of how various
architectural shapes were altered by the influence of light and water.
A result being "The New Railway Bridge". The water in that
canvas conveys a softer, less edgy look, precursor to what was to come.From
Argentuil, Monet returned to Paris to financially trade on his growing
reputation. There, his large railroad station, flag draped boulevard
on Bastille Day and other works brought both recognition and reward.
Once his monetary goal had been met, Monet returned to his first love,
painting water. His second house actually on the banks of the Seine
at Vetheuil, drew this letter to a friend, "You may have heard
that I pitched my tent on the banks of the Seine at Vetheuil, in a ravishing
Vetheuil proved not to be a wonderful place; his wife Camille died
suddenly. Though, that year, the river became the subject of a series
of winter landscapes, these canvases were filled with remorse, an
end to his youth and coming at a time when the Impressionist movement
was on the wane.But by 1883, it was a much different, more optimistic
Monet, as he moved into his new house in Giverny, enthusing that
the area was "Splendid Country For Me. I am in Ecstasy".
Giverny, about 40 miles northwest of Paris at the junction of Epte
and Seine river, obviously suited him because seven years later
he bought the property, declaring that he was "certain of never
finding a comparable house nor such beautiful countryside anywhere
Image: Camille Monet
Camilles death, Alice Hoschede, his housekeeper, married to
Monets business manager, moved with him to Giverny saying
she had to look after Monets two sons, while husband, Ernst
stayed in Paris "on business". Not only did his domestic
scene change, his painting style did as well.
Now he preferred lighter paint tones and softer brush strokes. In
a painting of Alices daughters, the blue & white dressed
girls are echoed by muted water reflections in "Boat at Giverny"
as much as he enthused about Giverny, finally and permanently settling
took many years. No sooner had he moved in, than he took his first
away, journeying to meet his friend Renoir on the Mediterranean
Coast. What he saw there so impressed him, he soon returned, spending
3 months "painting alone" in tropically vegetated Bordighera,
just across the Italian border. In a letter he told Alice that he
desired to paint "...the orange and lemon trees standing against
the blue sea". Which he did time and again.
Following his Mediterranean
stay, in a quest for new water to study and put on canvas, Monet moved
to the Brittany Coast. lodging in fishermans quarters. There,
he put his hand to capturing the wild and rocky coast. Alice received
a letter saying "I know that to paint the sea truly, you have to
see it everyday at all hours and at the same spot, so you get to understand
the life of it at that spot; so I do the same subject sometimes four
or even six times over.."
Of his Brittany work, Monet successfully sold 10 canvases to Theo Gogh,
something brother Van never did; selling not a single painting in his
lifetime. Art critic Felix Feneon in his Revue Independante column titled
the paintings "Ten Antibes Seascapes". Later Monet learned
that the show "...really won over the public, mulish as it is."
From that day forward, Monet began grouping his paintings as Feneon
had, concentrating on showing paintings of a single location from multiple
viewings. Moving to the Cruese Gorge, he did nine seascapes of the same
subject varying his painting hours from dawn to dusk.Returning home,
he turned his hand to capturing images of the local waters and small
boats, such as in his "Study of a Boat", and "Boating
at Giverny", again showing the three Hoschede sisters.
his studies in the effect of light and the use of color, Monet painted
fields and trees including his famous hay stack series. Compared
to his earlier bold, rugged, hard edged Brittany Coast paintings
his work ""Cliff at Varengeville" is a luminous canvas
of yellow grasses and a blue sea muted with blended lemon grass
tones. In another stray away from Giverny, he traveled to Venice
where he wrote Alice that he adored the glorious light on the canal,
adding almost as an afterthought that "I pine for Giverny.
Everything Must Be So Beautiful There In The Glorious Weather".
Back in real time,
our motor barge had slowed and was about to dock, so, for perhaps the
third time that day, I wiped clean all of my camera lenses, double checked
what were a new set of batteries, both for camera and flash plus a back-up
camera as well. Then, finally I double checked to be certain each camera
loaded with fresh film rolls was ready. But, I neednt have rushed;
the bus ride including a box lunch was a full 2 hours. When we finally
arrived, the path from the bus to the house provided our first look
at the garden so carefully nurtured by Monet and Alice.
present caretaker was less caring; if anything the garden looked
overgrown riot of color.The house was filled with Japanese prints
and copies of Monet art, which we later learned came from a thriving
on-site retail outlet that sold prints of all sizes to visitors
plus shipping great quantities to sources world wide. Monet had
no idea how successful he had become. As it turned out, our group
was allotted one hour at the pond, so my dream of matching different
light at different times of the day went out the window.
With and without
flash, I did expose six rolls of 100- 800 ASA of Fuji professional stock.
Deliberately, moving around the pond I worked at catching shadows and
light, snapping the bridge with and without fronting foliage and people,
while taking multiple exposures of 9 various lily pond arrangements.
I did my diligent hour until the leader hoarse from her efforts, finally
pulled us away, through the required retail store stop then back on
the bus, delivering us at our barge by 7:45PM, a bit late for our cocktail
hour, but we made up for missed time.The balance of our cruise took
us through the French locks system moving us up in water height lock
by lock till we reached Paris.
we had our Louvre visit, saw the Museum of Impressionist Art and
the Musee de Orsay, enjoying many Van Gogh and Monet works. And,
as is mandatory in Paris, ate and drank more than our fair share
of the best it had to offer.Back home, by my third day, I was impatiently
waiting for the lab to complete processing my film. Then, finally,
with the prints in hand, I could compare my attempts to paint with
my camera what Monet had painted with his brush.
What I was sure
of, was that I knew more about French art and artists from the l800-l900
period then I did before our trip. Also I had a better understanding
that to be a true artist -- in art, dance, music, theatre no
one succeeds without a lot of invested time, energy, loving care, lots
of sweat and a bit of luck.
All words which ring true. Plus that one unique ingredient true
talent. Im smart enough to know though I love taking pictures,
a photographer Im not. Monet I certainly am not. But what I am
I believe, is in good company.
© David Russell September 2008
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