Claude Monet: Impressionism

One of my most favorite art styles, that is a relatively modern one, is Impressionism. Impressionism was an art of industrialized and urbanized Paris and it was a reaction to transformation of French life caused by modernity and technology. Impressionist artists seek to capture a fleeting moment in their works, representing the elusiveness and impermanence of that moment and of the conditions.

Undoubtedly, the best known Impressionist painter is Claude Monet (1840-1926). Monet’s work, Impression: Sunrise, is what launched off the Impressionism style and what coined the name for this style.

Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872

A hostile critic, upon seeing the work, denounced it. He claimed that that painting only gave him an impression of a sunrise because of its sketchy and blurry qualities. Although the term was supposed to be a derogatory one, it caught on. By the third Impressionist art show, the artists embraced and welcomed this term and began to call themselves Impressionists! (Obviously, what the art critic had intended backfired!) I personally really like Monet’s Impression: Sunrise. I think that it is a very artistic representation of a sunrise and that the sketchy quality and the evident brushstrokes are what make this painting so distinctive and so beautiful.

Another aspect that makes Monet’s work so unique is his study and depiction of light. Monet’s way of painting light is very different from that of Rembrandt or Tanner in several different ways. First, Monet usually painted outdoors, where sunlight abounds. Monet not only depicts light, he studies it. Monet is known to have painted countless paintings of the same subject at various times during the day to study the effect of light on that object at particular moments. One such example is his study using the Rouen Cathedral in France.

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (in the Sun), 1894

In the series of the Rouen Cathedral, Monet painted over forty paintings. They all depict the cathedral from the exact same viewpoint, but just a different times of the day and at during different weather conditions. In Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (in Sun), it is obvious (even just by the title) that Monet depicted the cathedral drenched in sunlight. The title also suggests that the main subject of the painting is not necessarily the Rouen cathedral, which Monet only depicts a part of, but light itself. I think that the visual effects of this painting are so impressive. The image of the cathedral is so blurred and sketchy yet so precise— all of its identifying characteristics are there. And Monet depicted sunlight so accurately.

Monet is also known to study light using something a little more low-key: haystacks. Although the subject matter is different, the purpose of the paintings is still the same: to study the effect of light. Below are a couple of Monet’s paintings of haystacks…

Claude Monet, Grainstacks at Giverny, Sunset, 1888-1889

Claude Monet, Grainstacks, White Frost Effect, 1889

As I mentioned earlier, Impressionism was a reaction to the transformation of France due to modernization and industrialization. Monet’s painting, Saint-Lazare Train Station, is a prime example of this.

Claude Monet, Saint-Lazare Train Station, 1877

It depicts the contemporary Parisian urban scene. Train stations were a significant aspect of Paris because they brought so many people in and out of the city. In the painting, the train is emitting smoke and steaming towards the viewer, embodying the speed and energy of technology. There are also buildings in the background that add to the urban scene in Paris. The agitated people at the train station give a sense of the busy, fast-paced city life.

Although Monet’s paintings are not necessarily geometrically precise or naturalistically accurate, such as many of the Neoclassical paintings (which were another personal favorite of mine), I really do love that particular quality that his works exude. Monet’s works to me seem to be spontaneous, abbreviated, and, in the sense of a fleeting moment, speedy. I think that these qualities are a result of the sketchy characteristic of his paintings and the evident brushstrokes. Regardless of what critics then and critics today think, Monet has truly left a long-lasting legacy as an artist.

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