Friday, September 13, 2013

Monet, Claud

Camille Monet on a Garden Bench
oil on canvas
60.6 x 80.3 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Monet's art depends on observation of his environment, and to that extent it is always autobiographical. In his pictures, one can chart the seasons, the weather, or as here, the look of women's fashion in 1873. Monet's wife, Camille Doncieux, is as easily recognizable as the mounds of geraniums in the garden of the couple's rented house in Argenteuil.
"Camille Monet on a Garden Bench" is the most enigmatic of Monet's rare genre pictures. Numerous interpretations have been offered, yet nothing has been found in the literature or theater of Monet's time that corresponds to this scene. The most telling clue may be biographical: the death of Camille's father in September 1873. Camille was an impassive model, but here she telegraphs sadness, while holding a note in her gloved hand. Later, Monet identified the gentleman as a neighbor?perhaps one who had called to offer his condolences and a consoling bouquet. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers." (Monet)

Claude Monet (1840 - 1926) was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. Monet found subjects in his immediate surroundings, as he painted the people and places he knew best. He rejected the traditional approach to landscape painting and instead of copying old masters he had been learning from his friends and the nature itself. He observed variations of color and light caused by the daily or seasonal changes.

One day in 1871, legend says, Claude Monet walked into a food shop in Amsterdam, where he had gone to escape the Prussian siege of Paris. There he spotted some Japanese Ukiyo-e prints being used as wrapping paper. He was so taken by the engravings that he bought one on the spot. The purchase changed his life - and the history of Western art. Monet went on to collect 231 Japanese prints, which greatly influenced his work and that of other practitioners of Impressionism, the movement he helped create. Under the new Meiji Emperor, Japan in the 1870s was just opening to the outside world after centuries of isolation. Japanese handicrafts were flooding into European department stores and art galleries. Japonism, a fascination with all things Japanese, was soon the rage among French intellectuals and artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and the young Monet.

Perhaps the greatest gift Japan gave Monet, and Impressionism, was an incandescent obsession with getting the play of light and shadow, the balance of colors and the curve of a line, just right - not the way it is in reality, but the way it looks in the artist's imagination, like Hokusai's Ukiyo-e. At Giverny where Monet built a Japanese bridge over a Japanese pond in a Japanese garden, he spent the rest of his life painting the private paradise, his water lilies of the pond, again and again, until he lost his eyesight in quest of an elusive, transcendent perfection that might best be called Japanese. "I have slowly learned about the pattern of the grass, the trees, the structure of birds and other animals like insects and fish, so that when I am 80, I hope to be better," Hokusai wrote 16 years before his death at age 89. "At 90, I hope to have caught the very essence of things, so that at 100 I will have reached heavenly mysteries. At 110, every point and line will be living."
"For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at any moment." (Monet)