Is there more than one Monet?

A Monet is a Monet is a Monet – or is it? If we only think of Claude Monet as an impressionist painter then there are paintings in his life’s work that one might be reluctant to claim as a good representation of Monet’s work. In this sense, I am going to propose that there is more than one Monet when considering his work and also that he has offered us more than he is usually given credit.

The tight small dabs of sometimes pure colour associated with the “impressionist years” and his large lily paintings come from different approaches and the latter from a mature use of all that he knew. I come to this understanding following my visit to “Claude Monet’s Secret Garden” exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery which has a dozen or so works from his impressionist period and then goes on to focus on his late years of painting when he was troubled by cataracts and a legitimate fear of having surgery at the time.

The impressionist paintings are of medium size, easily portable and distinctive in their approach using small short brushstrokes and dabs of colour to capture the effects of light on a landscape. Here are a couple of my favourites from the exhibition.

Snow Effect, Sunset by Claude Monet 1875

Field of Yellow Irises at Giverny by Claude Monet 1887

Later Monet lived on his garden property for 40 years. This is where he started to study light in its deeper complexities. This is where he observes light changing every seven minutes and lamented that if he didn’t finish a work one day the next could not be counted on to give him the same conditions to continue the work. To compensate, he worked on up to 20 prepared canvases at one time changing them out as the light shifted or if the day was different.

The Seine at Port-Villez, Rose Effect by Claude Monet 1894

The Seine at Port-Villez, Evening Effect by Claude Monet 1894

The “Claude Monet Secret Garden” exhibition has many large canvases which Monet was able to work on in his 70 and 80s because he was working from home in his garden and the paintings could be moved in and out of the studio as needed.

Life can either knock the stuffing out of us at times or allow us to reach something we may not have been able to do otherwise. Sometimes it does both. During the First World War Monet could hear the fighting from his home studio as he worked. Around this time he was also grieving from the death of second wife and one of his sons. Grief and not being able to see clearly from his cataracts are both possible causes for a change in work during this period.

These rich deep hues are so different from his earlier works, yet there are clues that these are indeed by his brush. These renderings are completed with large expressive brush-marks with the colours blended right on the canvas! Clearly these paintings are something different from his early impressionist paintings and definitely leading us towards what was to come next in post-impressionism and expressionism.

Water Lilies by Claude Monet 1916-1919

“I only know that I do what I can to convey what I experience before nature and that most often, in order to succeed in conveying what I feel, I totally forget the most elementary rules of painting, if they existed that is.” – Claude Monet, 1912

What he couldn’t see he could still feel, hear and touch. Monet had been painting for so long that he had a well established habit of placing his paints in the same place on the palette. He did not need to see well to continue to paint with excellence!

Monet painted the oval lily paintings and the wisteria paintings (which were suppose to go above the lily paintings) while he had cataracts. In 1923 Monet had cataract surgery. By this time he had suffered with them for 11 years.  He destroyed some of the paintings from that time and reworked others once he could see clearly again. And yet, other paintings feel like they were left as they were – though the date of completion on this one suggests otherwise.

The Japanese Bridge by Claude Monet 1918-1924

The information card tells me that Monet completed twenty paintings of this bridge and the body of work is among his most abstract. These later works often show bare canvas in places along with these free loose and large brushstrokes. Would Monet consider the paintings finished? I believe so simply by looking at the continuation of his work during this period of his life. However, these works were in his own personal collection. They were never sold. So it does beg the question of whether he was unsatisfied with them and so didn’t put them up for sale or if he made a decision to keep them for his own appreciation.

The exhibition shows two gorgeous wisteria paintings having some 5- 15 layers of paint and still feeling like each brushstroke has been applied distinctively, accurately – alla prima! In the end, there was no room for showing these wisteria paintings with the lily pond paintings as originally planned. To honour Monet’s original intention for the wisteria paintings, the Vancouver Art Gallery did a curved display wall.

The paintings shared in these images (for personal study use only) are some of the 38 paintings out of 94 that were in Monet’s private collection at the time of his death. These paintings will be showing until October 1, 2017 at the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia. The paintings are on loan from the  Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take a half day to be with these works so close to home. If you get a chance, do go and do take the tour after spending sometime getting to know the paintings being shown. Then go through and look again with your new understanding of why these particular works were selected.

If someone was to ask if there was more than one YOU worth knowing what would you say?

© 2017 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

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22 thoughts on “Is there more than one Monet?

  1. Terrill — What a wonderfully rendered, thought-provoking post.

    To answer your question, “If someone was to ask if there was more than one YOU worth know what would you say?”

    Even though the essence of me is me, I’ve morphed through many “incarnations” in my almost sixty years. I’m a seasoned—different—version of the original me.

    • Me too Leanne and you are most welcome! The bits and pieces I have shared are available here and there between notes I took during the guided tour and my art books. I love reading about the lives of my favourite artists almost as much as looking at their paintings. Historical specific conditions are important to the creative process as they are to other parts of our lives but they leave these threads of evidence in our painting, sculpture, writing, music and architecture that we see from afar later on with different influences. Piecing together what we can from that specific time helps us to shed some of our assumptions – at least for a little while and then we can see as the artist might have. With a bit of luck, we will not be able to unsee once we have seen and be able to carry this new found understanding forward with us into our daily lives. At least this is my intention with this post anyway.

  2. Lovely blog, the sharing of your experience of the Monet’s allow us to “see” them through your creative painterly eye view. Thank you.

    We are all multifaceted creative being. When someone asks what do you do, my list gets longer and longer, each one makes me who I am.

    • It is so true Jeff. I have stopped telling people everything and focus on what I am doing now… But I know and I also know that the other parts of me and skillsets I have developed help with my current ways of being in the world. I wonder how Monet felt about these aspects?

  3. Yes Claude Monet was a complex person and this is reflected in his work. He lived outside Paris because the Franco-Prussian War 1870 made a strong impression on him and he was I think a pacifist. Monet certainly was sensitive to changing day light and I used that in my presentation to children asking them to take a good look and tell me what they see, what time of day is it, I ask them. His first wife Camille Doncieux died in 1879, Monet had 2 sons with her. His second wife Alice Hoschedé died in 1911 and she brought her own children from a previous marriage to Ernest Hoschedé who was an art collector of Monet. Strangely enough when Ernest faced bankruptcy, Monet let him live in his Paris studio. Who said artists are boring.

    • Definitely not boring Larry! But then love and friendship has never easily managed within a societal rule book. The years around when Camille died as you know were rough financially for Monet also. Next week, in my last post on the Monet exhibition I will tell a story about just one painting – Vétheuil in the Fog – that was painted in 1879 and remained in Monet’s personal collection at the end of his life.

  4. I recently spoke to someone who had had a rather belated cataract op and the cataract removed was ‘brunescent’ – ie it had become stained reddish brown. He commented on the fact that the willowherb flowers looked purple now, not red, and that my hair was greyer than he had thought and another person’s blonde hair less red (it had never been red). The Japanese bridge painting suggests Monet’s cataracts might have been having the same effect.

  5. My kiddos were able to see Monet’s garden in France and they were delighted with the experience. I have a ticket to the SAM, the Seattle Art Museum but have not been able to use it yet as the museum has been closed on the days I could get there. There is a fascinating exhibit there now, but the lines are so long. Having just had cataract surgery this week, I am running around enjoying all that I can see and that which is clearly – WOW it is amazing. Must have been so for Monet …

    I just feel like I am always changing, hopefully evolving. I do believe I can feel clearly the wonder I felt when my fuzzy vision was first corrected with my first contact lenses. I walked around , about 12, and saw all the leaves on the trees for the first time. No one knew I could not see until first grade and then glasses were pretty awesome, but still huge and thick and did restrict my vision. Then those little tiny contacts gave me great peripheral vision too…Now cataract surgery and wow again ( still a week to go without reading) inspiring…makes me wish I could paint what I see….each individual leaf…like single dots….WOW

    • Oh Patricia, as someone who wears trifocals to see and fights for any kind of peripheral clarity I was just grinning when I read you comment. I am so pleased for you and how you can again see clearly! So awesome!!!! My mother had one eye done a couple of weeks ago and will get the second one done in October. She too is thrilled with the difference of even having one eye that sees well.

  6. I went there yesterday to see the exhibit for the last time before it closes. I think Monet has definitely continued to evolve throughout his career. What this exhibit makes clear is that the “late Monet” shifted his focus towards movement and flow of energy. This is already visible in the water lily paintings, which I read as studies of vertical vs. horizontal motion. it continues in the large late paintings. It’s important that these paintings are large and that we get to move around them and respond with the whole body. Just like the impressionists did not believe that “black” is a legitimate colour because that would be complete absence of light and we can’t have that, the late Monet does not believe in the absence of motion.

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