I was recently in San Francisco and was very pleased to discover that the Legion of Honor Museum was hosting an exhibit entitled Monet: The Early Years. It turned out to be a terrific opportunity for me to revisit Monet's work, to better understand his influences and motivations, and to get inspiration for my own work.
The Luncheon on the Grass, above, was the centerpiece of the show. I hadn't realized that the painting that I was so familiar with, on the right, is a cropped portion of a much larger painting. (A section at the far right and strips on the top and bottom were cut off by the artist due to mildew damage and are presumed lost.) Monet began this ambitious work to enter into the 1866 Paris Salon, but he was unable to complete it in time and it remained unfinished.
When I look at artwork in museums, I stand back to look at the whole canvas and see what strikes me first about the subject, style, and feeling of the painting. Next, I'll often get very close to the piece to look at the brushwork and learn as much as possible about the artist's working process. Here I was looking at Monet's loose strokes on the dresses, fruit, and background. The unfinished dress in front helped me to understand the order in which Monet put down paint, and where he worked wet-in-wet.
Then I stood back again to understand the rhythm of the painting. My eye was first caught by the seated woman, then it moved down to the food, continued left to the three figures there, then back to the central man and the two standing people at the right. I saw that the size and position of the woman in cream provides interest and keeps the grouping from being just a line of people against the forest. But the focal point remains the woman in white because she is the lightest figure and we can see her face.
The contrast between the bright blue color and the dull greens and pinks first attracted me to this painting. I like how the strong values in the foreground frame the distant scene painted in muted colors. The horizontal lines and reserved colors make this pastoral scene look restful.
This painting was caught my attention because of its colors, the bright teal set against the bit of red orange in the chimney, the vivid greens of the foreground, and the muted blues of the sky. However, I'm confused about the composition; it seems somewhat staid with the house plopped right in the middle, but who am I to argue with Monet?
A Quiet Stunner
This painting was just stunning. It glowed with a soft warm light and subtle changes in color and value, which gave the work an overall feeling of peace and stillness. If you look closely in the detail you can see all the different colors that went into making the light and shadow in the snow.
I imagined Monet standing in the snow on a bitterly cold morning, bundled up head to toe, concentrating on getting just the right colors to create this incredible effect. Now that's dedication!
The colors in this simple sketch really capture the sense of a grey day at the seaside, while the angled brushwork of the sky and the women's skirts in the background make it seem like a windy day. Notice how that tiniest bit of red and blue in the background liven up that area.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show and I'm looking forward to the next one, Monet: The Late Years, which the museum says will be coming in two years. I can't wait!
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