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Claude Monet was a leading artist of the nineteenth century Impressionist movement. In fact it was Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1872), which is credited for the origins of the movement’s name.
Monet’s various departures form the norm such as the use of color, light, and composition created non-traditional focal points. His earlier works reveal what we know today as Monet’s established style. The painting Woman with a Parasol (1875) and Monet’s relationship wasn’t merely one between artist, subject and canvas. The woman was in fact his first wife Camille. He depicts his wife and son beautifully painted on canvas with unique brushstroke techniques, use of color, light and composition. Monet often used his very own family as subjects in his works as an exploration of artistry, technique and as an expression of life as it happened around him. Giving the viewer a peek at the world through the eyes of Monet.
A master of capturing moments in time, with light and color coupled with repetitive brushstrokes of vibrant color, is a style that is undeniable Monet. However these moments captured on canvas that have opened the door for the advancement of more current movements such as twentieth-century modernism. Monet’s unique style and brush technique has also heavily influenced American artist including William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and Frank Weston Benson who studied Monet in France and eventually brought the newly learned Impressionists’ painting technique back to the United States to create American Impressionism.
At first glance what seems to be random brush strokes haphazardly made are in fact strategically created with purpose. The left side of the painting has a cluster of clouds that could be seen as a potential distraction. But the skillful strokes of Monet make what seems odd, uniquely beautiful. The strokes similar to that made by a dry brush create clouds that dance across the sky with amazing detail and realism. Perhaps this is evidence that Monet was more interested in light and color more so than line or shape.
Monet’s use of live subjects outdoors in the natural light while having common everyday life experiences, has given way to a style that is undeniable Monet. Oil paintings, directly painted on canvas while outside and in the subject’s natural light wasn’t a common practice among artist of the time. Although Monet began the paintings outside he would customary finish the works in his studio. Woman with a Parasol showcases Monet as a masterful colorist combining natural light to create a story that beams with passion and life. The highlights on the woman’s dress clearly determine the direction of the sunlight, as does the white top of her parasol and the yellow reflections from the daisies. Similarly the hints of yellow in the grass are seen as reflections of light. The touches of yellow giving the impression of flickering yellow reflections on her white dress from the flowers below her feet. Monet didn’t literally paint each blade but merely made suggestions of blowing green grass with strokes of bright colors and hues to create depth. These strokes indicate a strong Impressionistic style. A style that is expressed by the use of unique color usage and technique. Let look at the clever use of shadows also. The shadow form the Parasol helps to clearly define the center of this composition as the viewer’s eye flows easily from the dark green underneath the parasol down to the shadows beneath her flowing dress. The shadow on her face and the left side of the painting creates the perfect balance that helps to ground the high contrast blue sky. The subtle variations of color with strokes of other colors that from a distance appear dark, but in fact are made of many other variations of color. Monet never used black, but it was the variation of color that gave the illusion of black or darkness in the shadows.
Monet captures the natural light of the moment from a unique low angel perspective that captivates the viewer and draws us in to have a close intimate look. This composition gives the viewer the perfect visual of wind softly blowing across an open landscape as the veil blows across her face. The position of subjects looking down toward the viewer (or Monet the painter) helps to create stunning personality. The low horizon lines, dominate blue sky and curved lines in the dress lead the viewer from the sky to the green grass below. The young boy standing below the horizon line creates depth and places the woman higher on the hill. The curved lines in the clouds, dress and grass also create an energy of calming peace.
It’s also important to note that Monet’s success as an impressionist was in his ability to paint the world as he saw it. Knowing the relationship between Monet and the circumstances under which he may have painted “Woman with a Parasol” leads to some very interesting conclusions. One of which being the depression and stress of financial hardships Monet experienced while creating this masterpiece. Shortly after the birth of his son Jean in 1868, Monet would attempt suicide. A few years later his beloved wife Camille would become illness and died during her pregnancy. These set of circumstances open our eyes to a new experience when viewing Monet’s paintings through the struggles of this great Impressionist. There are some very interesting suggestions of symbolism used by Monet that could allude to some of the circumstances that certainly could have consumed him at the time. The choice of the using family as subjects on this sunny day could suggest that Monet wanted to capture a precious moment in time that may be fleeting. Truly capturing the essence of quality family time isn’t an easy task even with today technological advancements. Notice how Monet’s wife is holding the parasol to protect herself from the sun, could this be symbolic of status or even protection. Why the veil? Is it also protecting her from something or is she hiding something? The viewer should also notice the subtle colors like the pink in her dress or the red and green in the son’s hat. What do these subtle colors do for the painting? Would the painting be different without these subtleties? Could the light color of her dress that looks a lot like a wedding gown be symbolic of purity? Set in one of the most romantic and picturesque places in the world, Monet uses the beautiful landscape of a Paris suburb to tell a story of love and adoration as he captured a “snapshot” of his loving wife and young son taking a stroll. This moment seems to catch a glimpse of someone looking at Camille in adoration. Its as if Monet was memorializing his wife before her illness and death. Landscapes were a favorite subject of Monet. He grew up in the French countryside and was quite familiar with its beauty. He often used the relationships between nature and the current affairs of his life to symbolically paint a hidden narrative.
The Woman with a Parasol is really a family portrait taken spontaneously, which is much different from the traditional family portraits of the period. A portrait in everyday life seems to be the theme in this masterpiece. The high contrast of soft colors, light and textures to tell a story of comfort that last for centuries. The fact that both subjects look into the viewers eyes, seem to stop in a moment in time, while neither smile but rather offer a very curious pose. Monet’s masterful depiction of light and the movement of wind, and how he easily captures the effects of sunlight, is amazing with in its self.
Before Impressionists changed the way we think about art, paintings were pretty predictable. Monet helped to revolutionize an art form and ultimately charted a new course that became modern art. This is a redefinition of reality or at least how it is depicted in real-time and space. Capturing the moment of light interacting with a subject, and the emotional attachment of the first glance was radical change in the nineteenth century. The idea of painting in this way wasn’t considered high-class art. Similar to how we consider graffiti artist today. Looking at landscape, or a bustling city of people, do we see every detail, every face, every interesting moment? Monet and others artist of the Impressionist movement expressed these normal everyday outdoor occurrences on canvas. They were affected by discoveries of moments in time.
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