Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet's final Nympheas

Water Lilies 1920-1926
219cm x 602cm, oil on canvas
Claude Monet
Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris Source: Wikicommons

This post is about the final and probably some of the most famous of Monet's paintings - the Grand Decorations which are now housed in the Orangerie Museum in the Tuileries Garden in Paris. They had a long birth.

Prior to the First World War, Monet suffered a number of losses and tragedies. In 1910, the Seine flooded and completely flooded the water garden and advanced half way up the Grand Allee. As a result the water garden required major repairs. Then in 1911 his wife Alice died; in 1912 Monet was diagnosed with cataracts and finally, in 1914, his eldest son Jean died. Monet's initial reaction was to lose interest in the world around him and he gave up painting. But he sat by his pond and gradually he regained a better view of the world and came back to his painting again.

His enthusiasm for work was generated by the notion of developing an idea he'd initially had nearly 20 years earlier. His aim was to produce paintings of the pond and the water lilies to fit a circular room so that they immerse the viewer of his paintings in the sensation of the pond. The notion was that the experience of the still water and the lilies would both soothe and delight at the same time. He saw the room as a refuge where cares would ebb away. It had worked for him and could work for others.

His planned work became known as the Grands Decorations. He used grand scale canvases he called panneaux (panels). Each was about six and a half feet by 14 feet. He also planned and built a new studio for his work which had a vast amount of space and northern light from roof lights and controlled by blinds. The nypheas panels were painted while on easels which were mounted on wheeled dollies so that Monet could arrange the panels to see how the painting flowed across the panels.

In 1918 he announced in a letter to the Premier of France that he wanted to make a gift of two of the panels to the nation - and he would sign them on Armistice Day as the First World War formally ended. As Premier, Clemenceau had other ideas and managed to persuade Monet to donate all the panels on the basis that they would be a public monument and be housed in an appropriate setting in Paris. Long negotiations then ensued and the number of panels to be donated climbed from 12 to 20. The final decision was that they would be housed in the Orangerie in Tuileries Gardens. This could provide a long narrow space which could be arranged as two ellipitical rooms. The exhibit was finally opened to the public in 1927, a few months after Monet's own death.

You can see the panels in the Orangerie Museum. which reopened in 2006 after being shut for a £31m renovation which lasted six years. They attract around half a million visitors a year.

They are quite overwhelming. The first time I saw them, they brought tears to my eyes and I had to sit down - and at that point I'd only just walked into the first room! However, if you can't get to Paris you can still have a close look at them. [This section and the links were updated in November 2015]
  • This is the virtual visit - you can walk the two elliptical rooms containing the panels from the comfort of your own home - and you can zoom!
  • These are the panels. They represent the pond at different times and conditions of the day
    • If you click on each of the panels you can find out more about each individual panel. 
    • Down the bottom of the panel there's an opportunity to zoom in so that you can see the nature of the brush strokes and the rhythm of the flow of the water.
  • You can read about the History of the Project here
  • The photographs of how the new studio looked while they were being painted seem to have gone missing from the website. However I've stood in that studio and it is truly an immense place.
What I find completely amazing is that these works were completed while Monet's eyesight continued to deteriorate due to his cataracts. To him everything appeared to be located in a fog. By 1922, his eyes were examined and it was determined that he retained only 10% of normal vision in the left eye and the right eye was blind. He had three operations in 1923 and then tried several pairs of different sorts of lenses to try and counteract the very unfortunate onset of a condition which caused him to see colour in a completely different way. Initially he had xanthopsia which meant everything was tinged with a glaring yellow and then cyanopsia which meant everything that was yellow was now blue. However he continued to paint - by looking at the names on the tubes of paint and remembering what colours they were!

People criticise the murals as being unfinished. For me, the fact that he was still producing artwork in in his eighties, still pursuing an idea and still trying to develop new ways of seeing right to the end is a remarkable achievement and one which should be honoured.

Finally - I'm delighted to highlight the blogs of Rose Welty (Rose's Art Lines - Monet) and Belinda Lindhardt (Belinda Lindhardt - Art Journal) who have both been developing artwork stimulated by Monet this month.

I think we've all gained a new respect for Monet this month. I know I'm certainly looking forward to returning to Monet and the series paintings later. Do let me know if anybody else has been following the series and also developing artwork as a result.

30th September: Who's made a mark this week?

A donut for Louise
5" x 5", coloured pencils on Arches hot press
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Congratulations to....

  • my great friend Louise Sackett (website) who has been celebrating one of those 'big' birthdays' this week - have a donut! Plus she also got some great news - have another donut!!! :D
  • Elizabeth Perry - whose blog (Woolgathering) is one of those I go to when I want to be reminded of the joy of looking at simple things with a fresh eye. She started her blog in January 2005 and on Monday last week she celebrated her 1,000th drawing (that's one thousand folks) with a distributed drawing party. If you go and take a peek you can find all the links to all the other drawings which people did as a result. I think it's a great idea - and many congratulations to Elizabeth for her achievement in making it to 1,000 drawings on her blog!
  • Genine (Broadhurst Street) in Rochester New York. Genine has just completed her first sketchbook (as in the first one ever started and drawn in right through to the very end!).
Art exhibitions
Kurt Jackson is one of the very few painters who maintain, as a central principle of their work, the ecological dilemma of our lives and the possibilities for a more sympathetic relationship with the earth. Kurt’s fight is with all that is conspiring to ruin the world.This fight is exemplified by the self-supporting lifestyle he and his family have achieved at their home in north Cornwall, right through to the concept that, as he states, ‘an ecologically principled lifestyle is in no way élitist or escapist.’ Kurt’s commitments are international: he is actively engaged as a campaigner with Aids Relief in Africa, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Survivors International and Water Aid. Nationally, he has raised money for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, homelessness, as well as Surfers Against Sewage, which is now an international movement.
  • The 44th annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists opened on Wednesday at the newly refurbished Mall Galleries in London. One for my 'try and see if poss' list. You can see the works in the exhibition by visiting this link and then clicking on the SWLA tab.
The SWLA Annual Exhibition will take place at the Mall Galleries, London, from the 26th September to the 7th October 2007 and will show over 400 works by members and selected non members in a variety of media from painting and drawing to sculpture. Many prizes will be awarded, including the Capmark Art Award of £4000 chosen by a distinguished panel of judges who will also award two runners up prizes of £500. (SWLA website)
  • There is also an Exhibition of Self-Portraits by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters at 2 Temple Place , London WC2 (next to Temple Tube) from 2 to 10 October (Opening Hours 10am ­ 6pm weekdays Thursday 10am - 8pm Saturday 10am ­ 4pm. Closed on Sunday). You can see examples of commissioned work by members of the society by visiting this link and then clicking on the RSPP tab. A £5,000 Bulldog Bursary for Excellence is also being awarded
The self-portrait is one of the most fascinating examples of the genre. It gives an insight into the character of the artist, showing how they depict themselves both for the viewer and for posterity. It is an excellent opportunity to judge their artistic skills as well as their tastes and also can reflect current trends. As the artist holds up a mirror to themselves we can also judge them and their craft. This is particularly interesting for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters members as their work is normally commissioned, thereby restricting their freedom of style. (RSPP website)
Art blogs
  • Martha (Trumpetvine Travels) has two extended and excellent posts this month on "how to sketch"
    • How to sketch - materials sets out the various different items in her toolkit - she uses pen and ink and watercolour to sketch in her own customised moleskine sketchbooks.
    • How to sketch - demonstration provides a step-by-step demonstration of how she goes about producing a sketch. It's an excellent explanation of all the things she does
  • Mark Kennedy (Temple of the Seven Golden Camels) has published an extract from the Famous Artist Course: Fred Ludekens which demonstrates a step by step drawing in pen and ink. I'm none too sure of the copyright issues involved here but it certainly is a recommendation for an artist and course which provides very detailed explanations. This is the link to the current Famous Artists School, the overview of the current guiding faculty and the wikipedia entry about the School.
  • Casey Klahn (The Colorist) has started a new blog which is just about pastels - called (guess!) Pastel [] it has a subhead 'Pure Pigment, Paste & Passion - Casey Klahn on the Pastel Medium'. I'm trying to get back into doing more pastels at the moment so will be keeping a close eye on it.
Art Competition
  • American Artist has a competition for work to end up on the front cover of its publication. Closing date is 1 December - that leaves plenty of time for thinking and doing!
Art History - Drawing
Art Galleries
  • Mark Holsworth (culture critic @ Melbourne) has summarised the different types of galleries and spaces which show art and the typical financial arrangements with each. Thanks to Art Dabble where I picked this up - and who links to typical spaces in Melbourne that fit these categories.
  • Wouldn't it be great if there were sites which listed these for each area?
Websites and blogging
  • I came across the Empty Easel article about 7 Tips for Selling Art Online: How to Help Buyers Find your Artwork. Dan doesn't date his articles so I'm not sure when this one was published - and I guess people may have varying views about some of the social networking sites and forums - but it's a recommended read.
  • If you've got views on what you have found helps sell your artwork I'm sure other readers woudl be interested so please comment (normal comments policy applies)
...and finally

Two events start tomorrow
  • the San Luis Obispo Plein Air Festival is happening all next week. Two of the artists in my blogroll - Ed Terpening (Life Plein Air) and Terry Miura (Studio Notes) - will be participating. Why don't you follow the action on their blogs? For anybody who fancies going to San Luis Obispo to follow the action in person can I recommend The Big Sky Cafe for the best breakfast I had while travelling in the USA last summer.
  • The Big Draw month in the UK kicks off today in the East End of London and formally starts tomorrow. Read my previous post The Big Draw and the Big Drawing Book Review for more information about what's planned - and there'll be more - starting tomorrow! I'm now off to a lecture just down the road followed by a drawing event.....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and the water garden at Giverny

The Japanese Footbridge 1899
Claude Monet
Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly, in memory of her son John W. Mudd, and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1992.9.1
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Of all the images associated with Monet, the water lilies and the Japanese bridge over the pool in the water garden at Giverny are perhaps the most well known. For more than 25 years, he painted them again and again. As a result there are many versions in museums and art galleries around the world.
In 1899–1900 Monet painted a series of at least seventeen views of the footbridge over the pond in his garden at Giverny. Thirteen were included in an exhibition of his work at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1900. The arched bridge was probably modeled on a bridge depicted in one of the many Japanese prints that Monet collected.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
I've found a few of them in major museum collections - plus some water lilies too:
The sky has already disappeared from this painting; the lush foliage rises all the way to the horizon and space is flattened by the decorative arch of the bridge. Monet gave equal emphasis to the physical qualitites of his painting materials and to the landscape motif he depicted....In later lilypond paintings, even more of the setting will evaporate, and the water’s surface alone will occupy the entire canvas. Floating lily pads and mirrored reflections assume equal stature, blurring distinctions between solid objects and transitory effects of light. Monet had always been interested in reflections, seeing their fragmented forms as the natural equivalence for his own broken brushwork.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The development of the garden at Giverny

In 1890 Monet was able to buy the house and garden at Giverny outright and he set about radical change. In the 1880s and early 1890s he dug and planted his gardens. He changed the trees in the orchard area - and planted flowering cherries, he bought the house and garden next door to enable an area to be set aside for vegetables. By the end of 1892 he had a team of seven gardeners and in 1893 he bought a parcel of land across the road in which to make a water garden of an additional 2 acres (or 8,000 square metres).

He also diverted the river to avoid the water in the pool becoming stagnant, tarmaced the road dividing the two gardens to ensure the dust from the track did not settle on the water and spoil the reflections and built the Japanese Bridge in 1895. The Japanese bridge follows exactly the line of the Grand Allee and the main door of his house. So in the morning he could walk in a straight line out of front door of the house, down the grand allee, open the garden door, cross the road and enter the water garden and stand on the bridge looking out over the pond and the waterlilies.

Monet deferred major and systematic painting of either garden until the late 1890s. Initial attempts to paint the bridge in 1895 were not harmonious, every element is distinct and the works lack a unity. So he continued to sit and watch his pond and to absorb its characteristics. Maybe he subscribed to the notion of deferred gratification. Maybe he knew what he was planning in his mind's eye and was waiting until the garden had reached that stage of its development before he started to paint. Whatever the reason, one can only marvel at Monet's ability to wait until he had absorbed enough about the garden before he started to paint it within the context of a series.
"You don't understand a landscape in a day.....It took me a long to understand my water lilies....I grew them without thinking of painting them....And then, all of a sudden, I had a revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette"
Claude Monet - various quotations
In the meantime he painted his series of 15 canvases concerning morning on the Seine. I'm wondering whether these formed a way of practising to paint his garden as of all the series paintings these are the ones most similar to the water garden.

The Debra Ancoff book also has a lovely story about how the essayist Maurice Guillemot visited Monet in August 1897. It recounts how he sat with Monet in the morning while Monet painted the Seine at its confluence with the Epte - working on 14 canvases at the same time, then after lunch he sat with Monet in the water garden and viewed the pond and the water lilies, before finally being shown the studies Monet had been doing of the pond.
Closely observed, each canvas featured nothing more than a span of water and a few blossoms, brightly painted against the muted tones of the lily pads and the surface of the pond. Some views included reflections of the trees, recalling the subtle motif that graced the series he was painting of the Seine in the delicate light of the morning.
Guillemot quoted by Debra Ancoff, Monet's Garden in Art
For those who'd like to know more about the series of paintings about the Japanese bridge, the various paintings are very well described and analysed in both the Debra Ancoff book and the one by Clare Willsdon. This is Debra Ancoff commenting on the paintings of the bridge completed in 1900.
The new paintings presented changes in form, colour and point of view. Monet's brush stroke - crisp in the 1899 paintings - loosened, emphasizing calligraphic description over sparkling definition. He chose more vivid exhuberant hues, introducing reds and violets where only the most delicate pinks had rpevailed. He focused his attention on the left bank, moving only slightly from canvas to canvas and he set the bridge as a stable element, arcing just above the centre of the canvas and spanning the right side of the composition. More lush than before the heavily laden branches of the trees and the massed flowers and grasses on the bank suggest the inherant vitality of the the natural world.
Debra P Ancoff, Monet's Garden in Art
The critics found it difficult to understand Monet's new paintings. Some understood however that "We will understand [them] one day better than we do now"

Water Lilies 1906
Inscribed at lower right: Claude Monet 1906
Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 36 1/2 in. (87.6 x 92.7 cm)
Art Insitute of Chicago

In total he painted something like 250 paintings of water lilies. These are distributed around very many museums and art galleries and private collections across the world.

His initial attempts focused on the effects of the blossoms bursting out of the muted lily pads. Later paintings of water lilies feature blossoms as only one element of an overall view, they intermingle with the reflections of both clouds and trees and are often represented by dabs of pure pigment on a pond which is painted with a smooth and even brush stroke - to represent the still or gentle movement of the pond's surface.
Monet is painting a series of views [just] reflection in water, you see nothing but the reflection!
Mary Cassatt - in a letter to a friend
Overall, the paintings of water lilies vary in size - he changed the sizes and shapes of the canvases on which he worked - and treatment. Latterly, the paintings begin to reflect the way in which his painting changed as be began to battle with the development of cataracts and the loss of important members of his family.

Tomorrow I'm going to complete this series of posts about Monet's paintings of gardens by focusing on his final project - the water lily murals which are now housed in the Musee do l'Orangerie in Paris.

Note: Miki Willa in Hawaii wrote and recommended a book about Monet which is suitable for children. I checked it out on Amazon and it has a lot of very good reviews. I've added in a link to what Mike told me below.
I found a lovely book for young people about Monet, his family, and his garden at Giverney. It is written like a fiction book, but is is full of factual information, photos, and paintings. It is called Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. It is publised by R&S books. It was originally published in Sweden in 1985. I hope you get a chance to look at this delightful book and pass it on to others who might enjoy it.
Links: Books (see Claude Monet - Resources for Art Lovers for further details):
  • Monet Christopher Heinrich (Taschen).
  • Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson)
  • Monet's Garden in Art Debra P Mancoff (Frances Lincoln)
  • In the gardens of Impressionism Clare A.P.Willsdon - especially Chapter 8 'Monet in the south and at Giverny'
  • Artists' Gardens Bill Laws - especially the chapter on Giverny (pages 134-143)
  • Impressionist Gardens Judith Bumpus

Friday, September 28, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet - the story so far

Canna Monet?
11" x 8", pastel on abrasive board
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This post summarises some of the lessons I've learned so far about Monet and includes a pastel painting which tries to exemplify some of things I've learned.

I've never seen a painting of Monet's which involved Canna Lillies - but they do seem a very Monet type of plant to me and I feel sure he would have painted them if he'd ever seen any. The pastel was done using a variety of sticks of pastel - as ever I'm always surprised by how useful the Conte a Paris sticks are for when you need a hard edge or to stroke lines into a painting. I also got my freebie Derwent Pencils out - and I have to say I am now a convert. Again for all those times where you just want an 'edge' stroke. If you click on the painting you'll see that the background is a mass of squiggles - vaguely denoting olive leaves. Also although I think I've got the rather odd shape of the canna lily blooms these are all nothing more than big squiggles. I enjoyed doing the leaves - and this is the bit I think Monet would have really enjoyed. They are such gorgeous colours and they all vary depending on how the light hits them and what angle they are at. Lots of strokes involved in suggesting the shape and direction of the structure of each leaf.

I instantly regretted fixing it prior to scanning. Not only because I managed to commit the pastel artist cardinal sin of fixing while it was lying down but I didn't realise until I began to spray that I was coming to the end of that spray. So what did I get? Pastel artists now all say in one chorus - "big blobs!" It looked disgusting. I'd have photographed it but then I would have been tempted to post it and I'm not about to be associated with anything that looked that disgusting. So it was back to the drawing board and a bit more work to 'fix' the fixative blobs.

One of the things this pastel work reminded me of is how much I prefer to work large when using pastel - bigger surface, bigger marks. Monet was also not noted for using small canvases for paintings of gardens. Which makes me think I should have another go.....

Now for some comments on his approach

Monet subjects

I found when trying to work out what to do for my painting that part of Monet's style is about how he sees things and what he focuses on. That made trying to find an image very difficult - but will be helpful when developing sketches and taking photographs of gardens in the future.
  • Earlier garden paintings are initially very involved very much with domestic life and familiar figures. Camille and Jean Monet feature in a lot of the garden paintings prior to Giverny. Latterly Alice Hoschede and her children also feature in paintings done in the 1880s.
  • Figures in garden paintings reduce after the move to Giverny. The subject becomes the garden rather than the figure in the garden.
  • Monet loves flowers and was particularly keen on flowers imported from abroad. He loves painting blooms and blossom- they tend to take centre stage, especially if they have been planted in abundance - as he liked to do.
  • He travelled for subject matter early in his career and during the early years at Giverny. However as he got older and his flower garden matured and water garden was under development he was much less likely to travel to find subjects. Finishing paintings in a studio also makes more sense when you can walk outside to check the light and colour on your subject.
  • Earlier paintings include distant horizons and sky; later paintings (see Water Garden post to come) tend to crop down and exclude both sky and horizon - Monet's subject becomes the water and what is in and on the water. Compositions and subject matter start to look very much more abstract.
Monet technique
  • Sketches are limited to working out potential compositions and picture boundaries - the ever present concern of artists working on canvas who cannot crop with a mat. (You can see my summary of how Monet used sketchbooks in Monet's Sketchbooks)
  • He is concerned with capturing colour and the effect of light and works 'en plein air' a lot - but also finishes paintings in his studio. On travels he is apt to start a lot of a paintings but won't necessarily finish them on site.
  • Earlier paintings seem to be both very colourful and full of different colours while later paintings seem to work much more within a limited palette associated with a certain sort of light - in the same way that the 'series' paintings do. The work in the Mediterranean in 1884 seems to be associated with triggering that change. The the impact of developing the series paintings must also have had an impact on the way light and colour in the garden is subsequently described in colour terms.
  • In focusing on the light, he often works on several canvases at the same time. As a result, set-ups can be complicated especially so if large canvases are also involved
  • He has a tendency to flatten the picture plane and to abstract objects within it. Value has a place but it is subordinate to colour.
  • He liked using cobalt blue - and it was interesting while doing my pastel how introducing cobalt blue instantly perked it up and made it look more Monet like.
  • His technique seemed to change from the 1870s onwards.
    • Earlier paintings now appear more conventional even though the some of the mark-making deviated from conventional practice at the time
    • Brush strokes become shorter and more calligraphic and gestural over time. He often draws with his brush strokes to describe shape and form.
    • oil paint seems to be washed on in thin layers in some of the later paintings. The actual canvas can still be seen in some of the water lily paintings. In others the oil paint layered in an almost sculptural way.
At some point between now and Sunday, I'm posting about the water garden at Giverny and there may be another pastel!

Books (see Claude Monet - Resources for Art Lovers for further details):
  • Monet Christopher Heinrich (Taschen).
  • Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson)
  • Monet's Garden in Art Debra P Mancoff
  • In the gardens of Impressionism Clare A.P.Willsdon
  • Artists' Gardens Bill Laws
  • Impressionist Gardens Judith Bumpus
Links to posts in the Making A Mark - Gardens in Art Project" (August 2007)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Drawing in a new sketchbook

Fish! Supper
11.5" x 17", pen and ink in Daler Rowney sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last Friday I started a new 'big' sketchbook and this was the very first sketch - a double page spread drawn in pen and ink.

I have 'a thing' about the first sketch in a new sketchbook. I have to try and set the tone by making sure it is a good one and if possible I like it to be a challenge as well. So I usually have two sketchbooks on the go for a while - the new one comes out with me as I'm getting towards the end of the old one 'just in case' I see the right thing to start a new sketchbook. As it happens I only had a single page left in my old Daler Rowney A4 sketchbook after the Northern Rock sketches and it wouldn't have been big enough for this drawing of the interior of the steel and glass structure of the Fish! restaurant in the middle of Borough Market.

The other things I do when I start a sketchbook is (1) put my name and how to contact me on the inside front cover and then (2) put a sticky label on the top right hand corner of the front cover which dates it and summarises its contents as it begins to fill up. This makes it MUCH easier to find the sketchbook I want when looking back for a sketch to work up. The one I completed was "UK Sketches 2007 (March-September)" and it had all the 'big' sketches done in the Spring and Summer as the smaller ones tend to go in my Moleskine.

For details of about this sketch see yesterday's Fish! Supper in Borough Market on my travel sketchbook blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and the Mediterranean

Villas a Bordighera, 1884
Claude Monet 1840-1926
Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 3/8" (73.7 x 92.4cm)

Bequest of Katherine Dexter McCormick in memory of her husband, Stanley McCormick

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Before tackling the water garden at Giverny, I first want to look at the paintings of gardens which Monet did while travelling in the Mediterranean in the 1880s and which preceded the development of the water garden. This is a period about which I didn't know a lot about before starting this post - other than that I'd seen a few of the paintings from this period in books - and I'm still learning! I think this is also a period of travelling which may have also influenced the development of Giverny.

What I had never realised before is that Villas at Bordighera (above) is at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art! If I'd known, I'd have made a point of stopping at the museum to look at it while driving down Highway 1 last year! This particular painting captures the flowering of a century plant (agave americana) which is so-called because of the long interval which occurred between the appearance of its scented blooms.

Gardens of the Mediterranean

Monet first travelled to the Italian Riviera - on an exploratory expedition - with Renoir in December 1883. He then returned in January 1884 on his own and made Bordighera his base.

In 1884, back home in Giverney, the garden still needed to be made - while in Italy he was surrounded by gardens which were fully developed and had lush vegetation of the type found in the Mediterranean. Letters from the period to Alice certainly suggest that some of his design ideas came from gardens he saw in 1884 - in particular the way in which coupling colours of certain flowers (eg yellow and blue) could suggest shafts of light and the corresponding complementary colour of the associated shade. It supports the notion that he sought to 'paint' with flowers.
Monet found a motif in the palms and citrus trees of the garden of Francesco Moreno at Bordighera, with its backdrop of the Alps turned pink by the sun, to which he gained privileged access via Durand-Ruel (his art dealer). It was shortly after his first visit to this garden, whose owner plied him with countless 'varieties of oranges, mandarins, ripe dates, jujubes etc' that he wrote to Alice that he was in a 'terrestrial paradise'.
In the Gardens of Impressionism (Chapter 8) Clare A P Willsdon
Apparently in 1997, there was an exhibition called Monet and the Mediterranean. This started at the Kimball Art Museum in Forth Worth Texas (June 8th - September 7th) and then went to the Brooklyn Museum. It assembled 71 of Monet's paintings from three trips to the Mediterranean - Bordighera, a fishing village on the Italian Riveria in 1884, Antibes and the French Riviera in 1888 and Venice in 1908. These encompass landscapes and waterscapes as well as paintings of gardens. There appears to be no digital record online of the exhibition although it looks like it is still possible to buy the associated publication in paperback and artnet provides an account by Michael Klein of the exhibition - and highlights some of the images - here.

Monet's approach

Garden in Bordighera, Impression of Morning, 1884
Claude Monet Oil on canvas 25 3/4 x 32 in. (65.5 x 81.5 cm.)
The Hermitage, St. PetersburgNo. 3KP 522. Formerly collection Otto Krebs, Holzdorf
The bountiful wild vegetation and brilliant southern sun of the Mediterranean have a powerful effect on many travelers, and Claude Monet was no exception. ......while Monet never renounced his lifelong attachment to his home base in the north of France (Giverny), he thrived as an artist when confronting the extreme effects of light and its refractions on a variety of scenes along the Mediterranean coast and the Adriatic shores. From the olive and citrus trees in the Italian fishing village of Bordighera and the vast seas and skies of Cap d'Antibes to the astonishing series of Venetian landscapes, these works reveal Monet's fascination with the region and his obsessive goal of "painting light."
Kimball Art Museum
I notice that in Monet's Mediterranean paintings, the nature of the vegetation seems to make the marks that Monet makes with his brush even more distinctive than hitherto. Again it seems calligraphic in nature to me (or maybe 'of nature'?). Michael Klein comments on the way in which some of the treescapes remind one of the work of Van Gogh and I have to say they had prompted exactly the same reaction in me. His work is sometimes very reminiscent of the way Van Gogh created marks to describe form and structure. It strikes me that this is maybe one of reasons why I like their work.

I personally find that his paintings of gardens also remind me very much of those done by Winslow Homer in Bermuda. Maybe it's the just the motif of the palm trees? Does anybody else see the connection?

The colours are warm - apricots, oranges and pink seem to underpin and suffuse the paintings of gardens and one wonders whether he changed how he started his paintings or how he prepared each canvas.

He commented at one point that he needed to heighten his palette to one of diamonds and precious stones so that he could render the intensity of the colours he found in the Mediterranean. Some of the visual intensity of his garden paintings seems to me to come from the use of very carefully chosen colour harmonies. I'm wondering whether this was the beginning of trying to look much more carefully at the effect of light and atmosphere at different times of day. Such an approach was Monet's major preoccupation in terms of what followed with the series paintings (eg grain stacks, poplars, Rouen Cathedral) of the 1890s.

In 1884, Monet stayed about 10 weeks in Bordighera and painted about 35 works plus painted another 11 works on the French Riviera on the way home before returning in April 1884. In March 1884, Monet wrote to Alice.......
.........what a lot of gardening I shall have to do!
Links: Books
  • In the Gardens of Impressionism Clare A P Willsdon (Thames and Hudson) 2004

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and the flower garden at Giverny

Grande Allee, Giverny
Pastel on Rembrandt Board (NFS)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

In 1883, Monet moved to a pink house in the Normandy village of Giverny with his two sons, Alice Hoschedé and her six children. The village of Giverny is situated on the right bank of the River Seine about 40 miles northwest of Paris. Monet's fortunes began to revive following the move, sales picked up from the mid 1880s and he began to prosper. His work was accepted by the Salon and an exhibition in New York was a big success. In 1892 he married Alice after the death of her husband and, having bought the house and garden at Giverny in 1890, he was then able to spend the second half of his life living there until his death in 1926. In total the garden was to inspire more than 500 paintings.

Monet's heirs bequeathed the house and garden at Giverny to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966. The Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris received the inheritance of the painter's son Michel (the little boy in the painting discussed yesterday) including over 150 works and personal affects (sketchbooks, press clippings, family photos, his father's palette) to create the world's largest museum collection of Monets. The Fondation Claude Monet was established to refurbish and safeguard home and gardens and opened the doors to visitors in 1980. Since then both house and garden have become an extremely popular attraction for people from all over the world. I visited the house and garden in the early 90s - and it's a visit which is still very clear in my memory.

One of the first things he did after he moved in was to start to sort out and transform the neglected orchard and potager. The garden later developed into having two parts - but the water garden came later and will be the subject of my next post.

The Flower Garden in the Clos Normand (Norman field).
My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.....
Everything I have earned has gone into these gardens.....

Claude Monet
When I visited Giverny for the first time I was immediately struck by the fact that Monet did not only create art with oils. His garden was also an artistic creation and is quite simply a living picture created out of nature. It's a sublime example of an artist selecting and creating the objects and their arrangements as part of the 'set-up' for his painting.

However, it should be remembered that Monet revealed towards the end of his life that gardening was something he learned in his youth when he was unhappy and he perhaps felt it had a healing quality. He also referred to his gardening at times as 'a fury of horticulture'.

This post focuses on the flower garden - sometimes referred to as the Clos Normand. I'm going to update this post with a plan of the garden(when I've done one!). In the meantime, here is what it looks like on Google Maps. The large dark rectangle near the top border is the house; the flower garden is then north of the road which runs left to right and the water garden - with lots of trees - is to the south of the road. The Grande Allee is the wide pathway running south from the house - it has a framework of metal arches which are used to create an arbour of climbing roses.

In total, the flower garden is about 3 acres (or 12,000 m2) and is designed in the French style with beds laid out in a geometric way and intersecting at right angles. However planting was far from formal. Monet planned and laid out and planted flower beds and borders according to plant varieties and colours. He carpeted with colour, planting flowers beneath the trees in the orchard and treating the whole garden as if it were the product of an artist's palette. Essentially Giverny has become of the ultimate garden of Impressionism and as one might expect there are numerous books about the planting schemes at Giverny.

The Garden, Giverny (1901-2)
Claude Monet
89 x 92cm, oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
He favoured densely packed clusters of bright flowers: blossoms cascaded over bowers; spread across gravel paths and blazed in the crowded borders. "My garden is slow work, pursused by love" he once said, "...I dug, planted and weeded it myself; in the evening the children watered"
Monet (Eyewitness Art)
"Monet had an unmistakeble taste for the unusual and exotic in his Giverny garden. Of course he planted dahlias and nasturtiums too; but as the years went by the garden became more and more a place of pale blue wistaria and purple irises, tuberoses from Mexico, waterlilies gleaming like mother-of-pearl, tufty clumps of bamboo."
Monet (page 72) Christopher Heinrich, (Taschen)
He loved to juxtapose colour. He apparently was particularly partial to blue and violet flowers and I vividly remember pale bluey violet purple shades of various types of flowers out of which grew different varieties with yellowey orange flowers. Proust apparently observed that the flowers were "arranged in a whole that is not entirely of nature, since they have been planted in such a way that only those flowers blossom together whose shades match or harmonise infinitely in a blue or pink expanse"
Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment......
Claude Monet
Interestingly the life of the household was completely designed around the needs of painting. I include it here for those who want tips on how wish to paint like Monet
Always up at four of five in the morning, depending on the season, Monet would open his window, on which the curtains would never be drawn and study the sky. Then, regardless of the temperature, he took a cold bath. Monet insisted that he loved getting up and that he often felt like returning to bed just for the pleasure of leaving it again.....
The prospect of prolonged work in the open air and several tastes acquired in the course of his travels abroad had given Monet regular breakfast habits....In England, he had learned he to like the best teas from Kardomah, while in Holland he had begun to eat cold meats and cheese, even to drink milk on occasion.....
Monet always returned home at eleven sharp for lunch, which was served promptly at 11.30...
After Lunch Monet indulged himself in a brief respite, taking his coffee in the studio-salon followed by a glass of homemade plum brandy. If the light had not changed too drastically, he went back to continue painting out of doors. Otherwise he remained in the studio working by himself on his sketches, until interrupted at seven by two rings of the dinner bell. Invariably he went to bed by 9.30 so as to be ready to go before dawn the following morning.
Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes
For those wanting to know more about the House and Garden I'd like to particularly commend "Claude Monet - Life at Giverny" by Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson) if you can get hold of a used copy. It is full to bursting with detail and photographs of the sort not often found in other books - including a lot taken by the family while living there.

Marion of has made some of her paintings of the house and gardens available here. These have been made available as reference photos for any artists seeking inspiration.

Paintings of the flower garden
I didn't become an impressionist. As long as I can remember I always have been one.
Claude Monet
Monet's flowers are his brush strokes in the living image of his garden. Although he loved books on botanical subjects, he was not an artist who placed a lot of emphasis on botanical detail and was not always very concerned about identifying individual types of flowers in his paintings. His focus was the overall impression and most particularly the effects of light. He also delights in luxuriant growth and often translates them into 'palpitating masses' which have no hard lines and are covered by touches of analogous colours. He also seems to develop a form of calligraphic mark-making for types of leaves or growth.

Irises in Monet's garden, Giverny (1900)
oil on canvas, 81 x 92cm

Claude Monet

His painting of irises illustrates the point about how his intention is always about the overall effect rather than the delineation of an individual flower. It also illustrates very well how the flower beds were always filled to overflowing.
He painted (the irises) with thick short strokes of pure pigment laid on side by side - rather tha mixed or scumbled, to approximate their natural fresh appearance. One visitor claimed that the bright bands of irises seemed to be floating 'like a maze of lilac in the sun'.
Monet's Gardens in Art Debra Mancoff
I also always seem to think of variations in dappled light when I think of Monet's paintings of gardens - he often seems to use dappled shadows and sunlit highlights to break up what could be seen as flat areas (eg pathways) or objects which he wants to hint at rather than reveal in plain view.

Interestingly, figures which dominated his early garden paintings don't feature at all in any done in the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, late paintings of the Grande Allee at Giverny provide evidence of the deterioration in Monet's eyesight while he was suffering from cataracts. Not only does detail disppear completely but his use of colours also changes radically with reds coming to the fore.

My artwork

Houses and gardens have been a theme of my artwork over the years. My pastel painting of the Grande Allee at Giverny in September at the top of this post - with the nasturtiums meadering across the path - was done some time ago and now hangs in my mother's home. I'm hoping to produce another one this week!

Tomorrow - unless I'm out pastelling - I'm planning a post about the water garden at Giverny.

Links: Books (see Claude Monet - Resources for Art Lovers for further details):
  • Monet Christopher Heinrich (Taschen).
  • Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson)
  • Monet's Garden in Art Debra P Mancoff
  • In the gardens of Impressionism Clare A.P.Willsdon
  • Artists' Gardens Bill Laws
  • Impressionist Gardens Judith Bumpus

In the Pink!

In the Pink - at the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum
8.5" x 11.5", pen and ink and coloured pencil in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a sketch I did while having tea at the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum on Saturday afternoon. The museum is apparently the first one in the world to be devoted to telling the story of tea and coffee. It certainly seem to attract visitors from all over the globe. The tea room part also has the most amazing pink walls!

If you'd like to read more about this sketch and see another one take a peek at this post - "In the Pink - at the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum" on my sketchbook blog.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gardens in Art - Monet and Vétheuil

The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil, 1880
Claude Monet French, 1840 - 1926
oil on canvas, 151.5 x 121 cm
(59 7/8 x 47 5/8 in.)

Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.45
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Given the time lost last week, I'm going to focus this week almost entirely on Monet's paintings of gardens. I'm hoping you'll see a a pastel emerging from me before the end of the week!

A constant theme of Monet's work in the 1860s-70s-80s was the family at home and in the garden. First some context for today's post.

Towards the end of the 1870s, Monet was facing a number of challenges. The domestic idyll at Argenteuil was ending - his wife Camille's health was failing (she looks much less substantial in paintings completed of her in the garden in 1876); his latest patron Hoschedé declared himself bankrupt and Monet experienced severe financial worries and cashflow problems.

After completing the Gare Saint Lazare series of paintings for the Impressionist Exhibition of 1877, he moved his family back to Paris and then painted very little in the later months of 1877. His second son Michel was born in March 1878 and Camille's health became very fragile and she became confined to bed.

In September 1878, Monet moved his family and rented a house on the southern edge of Vétheuil, a quiet village on banks of the River Seine nearly 40 miles north of Paris. Shortly after settling there, Hoschedé turned to Monet for help and it was agreed that he and his wife Alice and should come and live as part of Monet household. Alice Hoschedé ran the household and provided help and support for both families as Camille first declined in health and then died in September 1879. Hoschedé subsequently returned to Paris to try and recover his losses and by the end of 1881, Monet realised he could no longer afford the house at Vétheuil.

At Vétheuil, Monet's paintings of gardens are fewer but continue to feature those he lives with. He painted four views of this view of the gardens at Vétheuil - and links to and comments on three of them are below.
  • In the NGA version of The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil (see top), his son Michel is pictured with his wagon standing at the bottom of the steps up to the house - which is obscured by banks of tall sunflowers. Behind him are Jean-Pierre Hoschedé and another member of the household. Figures and faces are defined in very broad terms only. Apparently the large blue and white flowerpots were Monet’s and turn up in various paintings as they move from garden to garden. This is a link to enlarged sections of the picture which show the detail of the work. The work has had an extensive exhibition 'career'.
By the early 1880s, when this work was painted, Monet was increasingly interested in the painted surface itself and less concerned with capturing a spontaneous effect of light and atmosphere. The very composition of this painting, with its high horizon, traps our eye in the canvas; even the path is blocked in the distance by the rising steps. We are forced back to the surface, where the paint is textured and heavily layered. At close range, these brushstrokes seem less descriptive than decorative.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington
Light bathes the scene, heightening all of the colors and penetrating even into the darkest shadows. These shadows are painted in blues, deep purples, and dark greens. Executed with short, energetic brushstrokes, the artist's garden resonates with the colors of summer.
The Norton Simon Museum
  • the next image if of a third and smaller version which is in a private collection. Monet appears to be experimenting with the impact of an intense blue sky on a very hot day above the yellow and orange colours of the sunflowers. I'm also struck by how the positioning of the small boys in this version makes their faces appear to be like those of the sunflowers. Nicholas Pioch (WebMuseum) comments it's one of the flattest paintings he has ever seen.
The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil, 1881
Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm (39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in)
Private collection

This is one of the flattest landscapes ever painted. At around the same time, Cezanne was flattening his still lifes by distorting the tables to a vertical orientation. Monet stops short of distortion through a judicious choice of subject. A hillside staircase provides the form for a dramatic flattening of the painting. Monet accentuates this effect with a strong dividing line going up the right side of the stairs, between the houses and continuing up the chimney to the top of the canvas. The sky and buildings are highly geometrized forms whose flatness serves to bring the deepest part of the composition back up to the picture plane. The stairs are not individually distinguishable; if not for the children placed on them, they could be read as a cliff. The children themselves are frozen in full frontal portrayal, which again contributes to the flattening effect. There are few perspectival clues provided. No clouds are shown that would break up the solid plane of dark blue sky. No shadows can be discerned, even though the scene is bathed in sunlight. This results in a number of interesting ambiguities. Are the buildings next to each other, nearly touching? Or is one or the other to be perceived as in front? The structure on the left seems to be directly at the top of the stairs. But the blue roof on the right draws a line across the pink roof that brings it abruptly forward, hanging precariously over the hillside. Even the sunflowers are puzzling. The blossoms do not diminish in size as would be expected as they near the top of the canvas. As a result, they can be read either as a wall of plants at the base of the staircase, or as rows of vegetation terracing the hillside. This work, so unlike much of Monet's work in its flat plane composition, is a testament to the breadth of his oeuvre.
Nicolas Pioch, Web Museum - commenting on "The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil "1881

(Left) Alice Hoschedé in the Garden, 1881
Medium:Painting - oil on canvas
Private collection

(right) Woman Seated under the Willows, 1880
oil on canvas, 81.1 x 60 cm (31 7/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
Chester Dale Collection 1963.10.178
National Gallery of Art, Washington

While at Vétheuil it would appear that Alice Hoschedé as well as running the household also took on the role of being model for paintings requiring figures. "Woman Seated under the Willows" (NGA, Washington) is, I imagine, Alice while a year later she is named in the title of one of his paintings from this period. What is very interesting about the first painting is the almost calligraphic way in which Monet is making marks with his brush. Check this link for an example. This seems to be more sketchy in a stylised way.

What I find interesting is whether Monet is changing how he paints figures in the garden during this period. The treatment of children seems very similar - but I wonder whether the sketchiness of paintings of Camille precedes and is reflected in the calligraphic treatment of the woman under the willows - or whether it reflects the nature of his relationship with the two women. Or maybe whether he is just changing the way he paints in the decade following the advent of Impressionism.......

Note - This post has been included in two of my squidoo lenses - Gardens in Art - Resources for Artists and Claud Monet - Resources for Art Lovers. These also list previous posts on "Making A Mark" which relate to either the 'Gardens in Art' project and/or Monet.