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(Color, hue and clarity vary from the above copy and the art book used in writing this critique)
Claude Monet Circa 1869
Scott 2 Sam Scott Buteyn Humanities II 24th March 2008 Claude Monet: La Grenouillère Claude Monet, an influential 19th Century impressionist painter, admitted that his painted “landscapes of water and reflection [had] become an obsession,” (Boddy-Evans, “Quotes from Monet”). Indeed, the reflections of blue and white- the outside gatherings of cheerful people captured perfectly in La Grenouillère - create a sensational feeling of merriment and captivation with nature. In viewing Monet’s work, translated as “The Froggery,” it is best to introduce yet another assertion from Monet that; “by strength of observation and reflection… one finds a way.” By attempting the type of study on Monet’s painting that he advocates afore, a criterion is created with which to critique his works. Art History Monet painted La Grenouillère in 1869, one of the later years in a decade of flux for the entire world. The 1860’s were marked by events impacting both his native France and the rest of the world as a whole: the American Civil War and Reconstruction, Napoleon III invading Mexico and the opening of the Suez Canal all stand as examples of the changing times. A historical event of even greater importance is the first successful placement of the transatlantic telegraph lines. Events such as these reflect not only the rapid cultural diffusion of the time, but also a world which was growing smaller and more industrialized each year. News traveled by telegraph nearly instantaneously, and similarly, the Parisian epicenter of the Art World was put on a truly global stage- both giving and receiving artistic influence which spanned the globe.
Scott 3 In considering the Globe at the 19th century, a few worldwide issues which later impacted art must be recognized. Following the French Empire’s Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire became the world’s leading superpower. The Pax Britannica improved global trade, which not only expanded the middle class but also created a sort of industrial miracle worldwide, (P. O’Brien, 18). This becomes the first factor which impacted Claude Monet’s art; the nations which became global merchandise kings also gave birth to a minority which passionately preserved natural art. Monet is one of them; they are the Impressionists. A second visible historical impact on Monet’s art was the opening of Japan. The Kanagawa treaty between the United States and Japan formally ended the Japanese policy of isolationism, or closing of all ties of external influences (J. O’Brien, Japan Treaty). Following the integral opening, Japanese architecture, philosophy, and even art can be seen reflected in similar works from Western artists and thinkers. Monet justifies this assertion with his works that are subjected around the Japanese styled bridges and water lilies. The historical changes during the 1800’s impacted European culture greatly, no effect is more visible than that which was reflected in Western art. Impressionism, the style of art which was created as a result of the Franco-British industrialization, focuses on the beauty of life and light and nature. Monet clearly exemplifies this with paintings surrounded by natural scenes. He counter-depicts the World’s changes at the time by painting subjects antithetical to urbanization; such as the outdoors and the wild beauty of nature. Along with his fellow impressionistic painters, musicians and poets, Monet successfully expressed the generation’s attachment towards the outdoor studio. To prove Monet’s style is, in fact, impressionism, there exist a few key identifiers. Firstly, Monet’s version of La Grenouillère is not the only one. Six known versions of the painting are in existence; Claude Monet painted three of them. Three other nearly identical
Scott 4 copies were painted when “Monet and Renoir were living near one another at Saint-Michel… They often visited a swimming spot with a boat rental and a café on the Seine” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, La Grenouillère). This strip of French riverside was painted not only by Monet but also, as quoted before, one of the most important impressionist artists: Renoir. Monet’s picture (compare to Renoir’s in works-cited) follows the same patterns as Renoir’s, both classified as impressionistically styled. The connection between the two artists can justify that Monet or Renoir is impressionistically styled via their similarities. Also supportive, an analysis on the actual principles of impressionism proves they are present in both Renoir and, more importantly, Monet’s paintings. The subjects of nearly all of Monet’s paintings are strictly natural. The only breaks from still-life nature scenes are his few portraits and landscapes with urban backgrounds. Still-life natural scenes or similar ones with little cityscapes and people are one of the hallmarks of the Impressionism painters. Further, he embodies the impressionistic glance which aims to capture the brilliance of light in nature and color over form (Pioch, “Bathing at La Grenouillère”). The slight blur in shapes, coupled with the ripples of light in the water and bright backgrounds in many of Monet’s paintings, show the focus on the natural beauty of the landscape. Regarding color, Monet’s paintings show an eye for light matched only by Renoir. By completely abandoning the use of black for shading and outlining -in all entirety- the bright hues of natural light truly show. In painting Impression: Sunrise and earning the title as the “Father of Impressionism,” Monet truly embodies the passion of the impressionists. He exemplifies a style that hoped to bring into art “true impressions,” of the natural world.
Scott 5 The reactions to the changing times in history, combined with the Impressionism movement that Monet spawned himself culminated to create beautiful works such as La Grenouillère. Subject In noticing the differences between art movements before and after Impressionism, the focus on the subject is visibly different. After analyzing how impressionists aim to embody the ENTIRE natural world, it’s only natural (no pun intended) that their subjects skew from traditional techniques. Artists such as Claude Monet “relaxed the boundary between subject and background so that the effect of an Impressionist painting often resemble[d] a snapshot, a part of a larger reality captured as if by chance” (Rosenblum, 228). Thus when questioning the subject of La Grenouillère, one has to look at “the big picture.” In brief, the painting consists of 5 implied lines which all lead the audience’s eye into the island at the center. These lines compose of the island’s tree and it’s reflection, the docks connecting to the island nearly perpendicular to the trees’ implied lines, from the top of the boat to the man on the right dock’s hat to the crowd of people on the island, and two lines created by the angles of the small riverboats on the left and right side of the painting which bisect at a point on the island. These lines, which carry the viewer from any point in the painting to the island, combined with its traditional location justify its role as the painting’s main focal point- also known as the subject. However, as all impressions go, a superficial analysis doesn’t affirm the island as the painting’s primary importance. The most important concept of Impressionism is nature- and the use of light and color over form. Clearly, then, the island and the swimmers are NOT the actual
Scott 6 subject; otherwise form would not have been sacrificed so heavily. Therefore, with the intent of the focus actually on the light and the reflections; the island is only of a secondary importance. Beauty in nature has been a common theme in art since the first time man began to express himself. Until Monet and his Impression: Sunrise, though, it hard never been seen in the impressionist’s light. The short, thick brush strokes of the impressionists, the absence of black, the camera-like vibrancy and the play on natural light is something Monet combined for the first time. All these techniques had been used before, but Claude Monet and the Impressionists were the first to make them a standard in each of their respective paintings. As described before, the impressionists chose nature as an expressive backlash against the rapid industrialization of 19th century Europe. By refusing to conform to the rules of academic painting and radically altering the fundamentals of the time, impressionists and Monet earned their titles as some of the most influential artists in history. Line, Color and Texture: An Introduction As with every painting, several features seem to pop out of La Grenouillère and are noticeable immediately. There are also tools Monet uses which have to be analyzed thoroughly to determine their true importance and value. One of the utilities which the eye captures first is the extraordinary color coordination Monet applies in the painting. In addition to this; the tactile texture of the water, trees and play on light brings the viewer straight into a live French riverscene. More subtle, though; is the way Monet applies lines to highlight both the subject of the painting and organize it axially. The way Monet utilized color was not only revolutionary but influential and ingenious. The short, smeary strokes of blue, white and green… the combination of different hues which literally blend at a glance… the supremely fluid side-by-side placement of various swaths of
Scott 7 color… All these impact the painting’s overall aesthetic appeal. This color technique is additionally one of the main factors which qualify La Grenouillère as an impressionistic painting. Second but no less important are the textual tools Monet works with in La Grenouillère. Specifically, its power in creating ripples in the water, the reflective light, and the creative use of it over rigid form. Almost as noticeable as color, this is also a typical element of impressionist painters. Finally; the implied lines- as opposed to the blatant and visible ones- are incredibly affective in creating the structure of the painting. Not only do the implied lines create a subtle yet amazing symmetry in the painting, they provide additionally a focal point on the false subject of the painting. Monet uses this technique to his advantage by making the painting have a much deeper value than what is noticeable at first glance. This technique truly embodies the impressionistic glance without sacrificing traditional subject appeal. Color, texture and form are without a doubt the most important elements to the painting’s construction. With his originality in color use, Monet creates in La Grenouillère a powerful attention grabber that blends quite uniformly. The texture of the painting works hand-in-hand with color, but independently adds to the perspective of the painting. The implied lines webbing through the painting create a symmetrical matrix which focus on the island at the center of this glimpse into nature. Undoubtedly Monet was original- not specifically with La Grenouillère- but with the use of these elements during that time period. The title, “Father of Impressionism,” is not to be taken lightly. The painting discussed here is an example of his talents culminating towards what achieves the true impressionistic glance. By rebelling from the conservative artistic forms of the time, Monet not only reflects changes in history but indeed changed the history of art himself.
Scott 8 Color Art theorist correctly note that “[t]he most distinguishing feature of the work of the impressionists is the application of paint in touches of mostly pure colour… to allow the paint to mix on the canvas rather than mix it on the palette” (N/A, “Role”). Indeed, Monet is no exception when it comes to creating a luminous tint through the application of complimentary colors. La Grenouillère contains three pertinent sectors in which the range of colors must be analyzed. They are, in order of importance: The water, the foreground objects, and the background. The color usage in the water is of foremost importance when looking to the wide range of color and the technique with which they mix. Among the more clear colors used in creating the river-water are hues of blue, green, grey, brown and yellow in addition to shades of white. The range in tint is just as wide: light blue to deep blue and blues that look nearly black, dark green and light green, yellows which look similar to lime green and pure whites along with more cream and marbled colored tints. The value, like the tint, creates a seemingly colorful spectrum through the application of relatively few colors. The intensity-or chroma- of the colors is best seen in the blues and whites; from the duller chroma of blue which looks like a clean white to the high intensity of white which stuns the water to the (viewer’s) left of the island. While observing the use of color in the water is important, it is the way that Monet uses them which holds the real power. First, notice how to the left of the island (where the swimmers are) the concentration and intensity of the whites leading into the horizon line. Second, observe the darker shades of green and streak of blue in the opposite corner of the painting (near the large boat. And finally, see where those colors meet in the second plane of the painting (in front of the small riverboat). These is an impressive, unique and subtle way of creating perspective by
Scott 9 drawing the eyes back in an inverted V-type railroad track. The blue-to-white-to-blue on one side of the painting, and the blue and green mix-to-light and dark lime green-to- blue and green once again. Individually, this technique brings the eye to the horizon line on the respective side of the painting. However together, these symmetrical differences in color create the paintings five planes going back towards the horizon line; additionally because the viewer cannot follow both the island in the middle is framed perfectly in the center of the painting. Second, the use of color in everything before the horizon line (excluding the water, as it was analyzed earlier) must be looked at. Among the colors used in the small watercrafts are browns, grey and blue; in the center island grey, white and brown; and in the island’s tree brown and green and (in the top left corner) the leaves are a dark green which frames and balances the painting nicely. While the hues of the colors are roughly as wide as in the water, there is much less variation in tint, value and intensity. The widest range would be in the light shades of grey in the island and the dark grey of the large riverboat, and variations of green and dark green in the leaves of the trees. These colors are also much less functional than that of the water; however there is a sense of balance instilled by them. The dark green of the leaves in the top left corner of the painting balance with the roof of the large boat in the opposite corner, and similarly the boat in the bottom left corner is solely a functional counter with the dark shadow of the boat to the right. These colors are a realistic portrayal of the river’s impressionist glimpse, and serve no higher purpose than to be “greenspace” in this natural scene.
Finally, notice everything beyond the horizon line: mostly comprised of the forest and a little of the blue sky in the upper-left corner. The hues of blue and predominately green are the only colors used in this sector of the painting. Furthermore, while the blue is homogenous in its tint
Scott 10 and value and intensity, there is a modicum amount of dark green used in organizing the background in a more balanced way. One thing that backgrounds in conservative paintings serve to do is absent in La Grenouillère, the background creates little perspective at all. There is absolutely no linear or aerial perspective added to the background: no bluing of the green trees, and no vanishing point created by two lines. This is formulaic of the Impressionism that makes this painting so beautiful, as the purpose that sort of perspective usually creates is actually formed in the water! Not only a keystone of Impressionism, this replace-perspective (perspective is absent from the background but created elsewhere) is a signature technique of Monet which adds to the subtle power of color in his technique and style. As to whether these colors hold symbolic meaning, there is little symbolism behind their true superficial value. They’re representative of the natural world unaffected by the urbanization going on around it. However, as mentioned before, there is an obvious influence on the surrounding colors of the water. The side-by-side placement of the colors has an effect which can be noticed viewing the painting from a distance (use the painting supplied in the art-book for this, if needed). When viewing La Grenouillère from a distance of approximately three to four feet, the water is predominately blue. However up close the eye begins to see the greens, browns and yellows which make up the center of the river. This is an effect created by the calculated placement and intensity of the lighter blue and white colors which create a crescent sweeping from in front of the small riverboats all the way around to behind the large riverboat. This is an impressive style based mainly in Impressionism and modern art; popularized by artists such as Monet and Renoir.
Scott 11 Line
Scott 12 Renoir’s copy of La Grenouillère
Scott 13 http://www.abcgallery.com/R/renoir/renoir11.html
Rosenblum, Robert (1989). Paintings in the Musée d'Orsay. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. ISBN 1-55670-099-7