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)


Rose Welty said...

Katherine, very nice summary. It's interesting with a master like Monet that had such a long career how much evolution in technique, method and style there is. The ones who didn't paint for decades are a little easier to draw conclusions about. :-) I'll be looking for that pastel...

Robyn Sinclair said...

What a scrumptious painting, Katherine. It's more interesting for not being an obvious Monet subject, yet the influence is beautifully there. I think your olive foliage is a triumph. The blooms are gorgeous and I can see how much pleasure making those leaves has given you. I want to go and rattle my pastels.

Belinda Lindhardt said...

This is a terrific summary Katherine.. i noted the use of cobalt made my painting look more like monet too .. love the drawing also :)

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