Painting of the Day

19 Mar

Grainstack (Snow Effect)

Grainstack (Snow Effect). by Claude Monet (1840-1926). Oil on canvas, 1891. Currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Notes from mfa.org:

In 1890 and 1891, Monet painted a group of pictures of the stacks of wheat (referred to as grainstacks or haystacks) in the fields near his home, exhibiting them as a series to great critical acclaim in 1891. Traditionally, the motifs in Monet’s series paintings have been seen merely as vehicles through which he could explore the interaction of light, color, and form over the course of the day and in different weather conditions. But scholars have recently proposed that …Monet was equally interested in the meaning and significance of the motifs themselves. Grainstacks, for example, are traditional symbols of the land’s fertility, the local farmers’ material wealth, and the region’s prosperity.

Additional notes from theartstory.org:

Monet’s early work is indebted to the Realists’ interests in depicting contemporary subject matter, without idealization, and in painting outdoors in order to capture the fleeting qualities of nature.

Inspired in part by Edouard Manet, Monet gradually began to develop a distinctive style of his own in the late 1860s. He departed from the clear depiction of forms and linear perspective, which were prescribed by the established art of the time, and he experimented with loose handling, bold color, and strikingly unconventional compositions. The emphasis in his pictures shifted from figures to the qualities of light and the atmosphere in the scene, and, as he matured, he became ever more attentive to light and color.
In his later years, Monet also became increasingly sensitive to the decorative qualities of color and form. He began to apply paint in smaller strokes, building it up in broad fields of color, and, in the 1880s, he began to explore the possibilities of a decorative paint surface and harmonies and contrasts of color. The effects that he achieved, particularly in the series paintings of the 1890s, represent a remarkable advance towards abstraction and towards a modern painting focused purely on surface effects.
An inspiration and a leader among the Impressionists, he was crucial in attracting Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Edouard Manet and Camille Pissarro to work alongside each other in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil in the 1870s. He was also important in establishing the exhibition society that would showcase the group’s work between 1874 and 1886.
“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”-Claude Monet
My comments:
My studio art class is in its second week of working with paint, and I have learned so much about painting just by doing it after not having done it in literally 10 years. The most surprising thing I have learned is that it is supremely difficult to communicate value changes via shading in the medium of acrylic paint (not just acrylic specifically, because I’m sure oil paint would be no different, I’m just making this distinction here because that is the most accurate of my experience since that is what I am working with right now). As I was working on still life of melons in my art class today, it was amazing how hard it was blend the different hues on your picture in order to create that effect of colors subtly changing on an object as the different segments of it are hit with different amounts of your light source that is shining on them. I was personally trying to paint half tones to make my drawing look more realistic and representational, which I found extremely difficult. But even when I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to do that and tried another approach of just trying to use colors to express what I saw even if they’re not exactly what occurs in real life (I’m thinking of Gauguin’s quote where he says something to the effect of “paint that shadow blue, paint those red leaves with pure vermillion, paint the trees with yellow”), that too was just as difficult to accomplish. It makes me appreciate the work of less realistic but still representational painters such as Monet and Renoir even more, because it is certainly not as if they paint impressionistically because they do not have the skill to paint like Michelangelo or Rembrandt. As the quote I provided by Monet above suggests, he noticed things about the world that Renaissance or other pre-Modern artists either didn’t notice or chose to disregard in their painting, and he used his observations and experience to inform his painting and make art that is as equally valid as art by other artists from different eras and traditions.
Another thing I learned about painting is that it requires an unbelievable amount of paint to get the colors that you really want on the canvas. Anyone can see that in the painting above Monet used more than just white to paint the ground, and I knew that before too. But having had experience with trying to paint objects myself now, I have realized that to really get the colors you want, it takes much more paint that it would appear on the finished canvas to achieve the desired result. So now I have infinite more amounts of appreciation for what Monet and other painters were able to accomplish.
But in response to the mfa.org caption that says “Traditionally, the motifs in Monet’s series paintings have been seen merely as vehicles through which he could explore the interaction of light, color, and form over the course of the day and in different weather conditions. But scholars have recently proposed that …Monet was equally interested in the meaning and significance of the motifs themselves. Grainstacks, for example, are traditional symbols of the land’s fertility, the local farmers’ material wealth, and the region’s prosperity,” so what that the grainstacks symbolize those things? It’s odd to me that the caption doesn’t go further to explain how/why Monet chose to paint that grainstack that has these connotations and what he thought about them. It would be interesting to read a biography about Monet to try to discern whether he was more concerned with symbolic meaning and didn’t just paint to express the effect of light on physical forms.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: