Monet: The Break Up of the Ice
In 1879, Europe had one of its coldest winters and Monet was living in Vetbeuil to experience this winter. When the Seine thawed, the ice flooded the countryside and damaged bridges. Monet took advantage of these conditions and began a series of motif paintings in which he would paint the same scene again and again under different light conditions. The ice and water landscape were perfect for this type of painting because they were able to better capture the reflections of the scene and refracted light. This style of his can be seen forming as early as in the 1860s, though he didn’t paint his series of the winter flood, The Break Up of the Ice, until 1880. In 1885, Monet began work on Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, a painting of bourgeois leisure. We can see his start in playing with light in this painting. Manet’s painting of the same name two years early focuses on the shadow of the scene, but in Monet’s it is possible to see his great work in accentuating the light of the scene. Another difference between the two paintings is that Manet incorporates the viewer into the work. The nude woman in his piece looks out at the viewer in a confrontational way, in order to contradict the usual way that women are painted at this time, as docile and passive as possible so as for men to be able to look them. In Monet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, the viewer is an observer in the scene and just the players on the canvas are interacting. Instead of letting the viewer participate in the scene, he visualized it and took it in, something that we see Monet doing throughout his career. To Monet, painting was very subjective. He didn’t paint the “familiarity” of the streets, but instead what it looked like in paint (Harrison). He wasn’t interested in painting exactly what he saw, but instead how to capture what he saw and turn it into a painting. The idea of “being an observer” instead of an actor in a scene that we see in his Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe is something he takes with him into his more impressionist landscapes and later works. It is the style he is famous for. In 1869, Monet painted a small series called Le Grenouillere with another contemporary, Renoir. This was his first step towards a focus on one moment in time and capturing how the light would hit the surface of water at that moment versus how it would change in color in the next couple of hours. This series of paintings by Monet and Renoir is celebrated as marking “a decisive stage in development of Impressionism” and modern painting as a whole. At this time, it began to be more common for artists to paint en plein air, or at the motif. Earlier painters might take sketches of an observed place and then bring them back to their studios and make detailed paintings of the scene, but Monet was interested in bringing his canvas with him. He focused on what was happening to the scene at that specific moment in time, not was the scene looked like every day. With this, we begin seeing his interest in the “fleeting moment” that many Impressionists tried to capture in the 1880s and 1890s. Monet’s 1872 painting, Impression Sunrise is where Impressionists took their name from. Castagnary said that some people “saw” more clearly than others and a true artist was someone who was in touch with nature (Harrison). Monet and the Impressionists tried to capture that in their works. Their originality stemmed from offering an accurate representation of their perception and experience in the actual world. Because his work was so different that some of his contemporaries, Monet didn’t exhibit his work at the Salon, but instead exhibited in Impressionist exhibitions, the first in 1874. Because people did not normally hang their work outside of Salons, the patronship for those who did was not very competitive. Also, because of the attention drawn to the piece for not hanging it in the Salon, the painting gets more publicity. Many critics did not understand this style,...
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