Saturday, February 19, 2011

March 2011: Monet

Did you know that Oscar-Claude Monet (1840-1926) began his art career drawing caricatures. He was rather successful at it.
[I would decorate] the margins of my books. I decorated the blue paper from my notebooks to ultra-fancy ornaments, and I was representing, for the most irreverent, deforming them as much as possible, face or profile of my teachers. I became fast in this game with a beautiful force. At fifteen, I was known throughout Le Havre as a caricaturist." Thiebault-Sisson, Le Temps, 26/11/1900

Caricature of a man with a snuffbox, around 1858.
Notice the signature: O. Monet. He would not
change his first name to Claude until he entered the military service.
     Monet developed a small business creating caricatures of Le Havre's (his hometown) notables. He'd sell his works for 10-20 francs and managed to save 2,000 francs from his endeavors. Interestingly,the town offered an annual 1200-franc scholarship to promising artists for school in Paris.The year that Monet applied for the scholarship, it was awarded to two others instead:  a sculptor, Aimable-Edmond Peau  and an architect,  Anthime-Marin Delarocque. Just goes to show you, art critics aren't always right!
     Again, as with all the artists we have studied so far, Monet worked hard at his craft, studying other artists' techniques (Constable and Turner) and with prominent artists of his time (Boudin and Jongkind). Turning from studio work, Monet began to paint outdoors (en plein air). There's a story that when he visited the Louvre in Paris, instead of copying the masters in the museum as other artists were doing, he sat by a window and painted the world outside.
Women in the Garden. 1866
     Eventually, Monet befriended Pisarro, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille and Courbet, who together, overtime created the Impressionists—a group of artists who rebelled against the conventional artistic style of the day and opened their own independent exhibitions. Monet is considered the father of the Impressionists.
     I am most impressed with Monet's commitment to his craft. As early as 22, he was trying to do more than the "average bear," as evidenced with his painting,  Women in the Garden.  With a canvas that stood 8 ft wide and 6 ft tall, he created this lovely piece en plein air--totally outdoors. How did he accomplish such a feat? By having a trench built with pulleys attached to the canvas, so that the painting could be adjusted up and down as he worked. Ingenious.
Haystack, Snow Effects
     In time, Monet became well known and prosperous, unlike many of his counterparts. In the latter part of his life, he settled in Giverny, where he would purchase a house, marry his mistress and begin the serial studies of light on Haystacks or Grainstacks (1890-91)and Rouen Cathedral. Even when he was fighting blindness, like Mary Cassett, he soldiered onward and painted his gardens surrounding his Giverny home.
In his garden: Bassin aux nympheas 1899
     I hope my brief coverage of these artists has dispelled the notion that good artists just whip out masterpieces. It takes time, training, dedication and commitment. And just like the greats, we today must work at our craft.
     For the next few months I'd like to cover some paintings that I thoroughly enjoy. My first will be The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533. 
     If you would like to learn more about drawing techniques or links that would be if interest in your work as an artist, please go to my Facebook page:
     Until next month, happy painting and drawing!

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