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It is said that it is best to write about what you know. The same rule seems to apply to many painters, as it has clearly proved effective for Claude Monet. An impressionist artist, Monet focused on nature while sometimes including other subjects, such as his wives, Camille and Alice. In his plein-air landscape paintings he captures various shades of nature and when he does choose to incorporate human beings, they blend with nature and their beauty is undeniable.

Prior to the Impressionist movement painters had different techniques and their paintings had a different emphasis. The brush strokes used were thin, and precision was key. Most paintings were meant to be portraits to commemorate someone of a high class. If landscapes had been featured, they have been painted indoors. Monet represented a revival in art, known as the Impressionist movement, prevalent during the second half of the nineteenth century. Along with Renoir and Bazille, he explored new realms of art, rather than following the predetermined rules of color and composition set by earlier European artists. The accepted art of the time drew inspiration from earlier times and the works of other renowned artists. Monet and other Impressionist painters painted what they saw in their present day.

The techniques used by Monet helped his paintings take on a different texture. Monet used a light primer to establish the soft varied tones instead of the dark grounds used in the past. He sat outside at various times of day and created art based on the various shades, shapes, and textures created by the sun throughout the day. The first paintings he created featured haystacks. The landscapes Monet painted vary according to where he was living. Some are set in Normandy, others in France, and some in England, where Monet took refuge during the Franco-Prussian War. Monet also found some inspiration in Japanese block prints, asymmetrically spacing the figures, and emphasizing the two dimensional characteristics of the subjects.

The first painting for which Monet received recognition was The Woman in the Green Dress. It was completed in 1866 and is one of the many paintings featuring his first wife, Camille. The painting featuring Camille that I find most appealing is Woman with a Parasol. It was done in 1875 and features not only Camille, but also their son, Jean. The nature and the people within the painting are intertwined. Camille and Jean are standing in a green meadow. Her dress is white with hints and blends of a subtle blue. The green of the parasol compliments the green of the grass. The face of Camille is a pale peach and, in several locations, it blends with the clouds of the sky. The flow of the clouds, the wrinkles of Camille’s dress, and the position of the grass create a wind effect and bring another element of nature into the painting. The wind component gives life to the painting. The shadow helps us understand the position of the sun; we know the sun is a part of the painting although its not there.

One of Monet’s paintings was exhibited in the first impressionist exhibition, held in 1874. He painted it in 1872, and it is named Impression, Sunrise. From this painting the term “impressionism” originates.  In this painting, again there is a blend of nature’s elements. The subjects of the painting include several ships, the sun, and two boats that are in close proximity and so they stand out against the background. The sun is of a red-orange color with a bit of white added for texture and softness. The blue of the sky becomes indistinguishable from the blue of the water. I find it interesting how the sun gives life to the boats. It also intrigues me how the human subjects are diminished in the overall scheme. The people are not the main focus of the painting. Their faces are not lucid, nor are any other parts of their identity. In this painting, priority is given to the vast sky and the water.

Another characteristic of Monet’s work includes series paintings, in which he would paint the same scene in different varieties. Of his series paintings, I most enjoy Poplars along the River Epte. Not only did Monet paint them at various times of the day, he also recreated the paintings during different seasons. The effect was a change in the color scheme and the impact of the paintings. When the trees are more barren of leaves the emphasis of the painting is on the trunks. They are almost perfectly spaced, each with some purple leaves. This is likely to have been painted early in the day since the purple color is vividly seen. In this particular painting, Monet painted from the point of view of looking directly at the profile of these four trees. There are trees in the background but they are very faint. At first glance they aren’t even noticeable; they merely appear as an indication of light in the painting. The focus is on these four trunks. Looking at this painting I feel a clash of emotions as if I should be feeling joy due to the use of the color, but I cannot escape the somber feeling of the four, lonely, nearly barren trees.

There are several other versions of this landscape, but I will focus on one that I feel is most diverse. This painting was probably created either during the late spring or early summer of 1900. The perspective of this painting is very different from that of the painting I had previously described. Instead of focusing on four trees, this painting chooses an angle that still shows the trees in proximity in greater detail, but also puts an emphasis of the background. The trees are all overflowing with leaves and there are bushes growing along the roots of several trees. There is also a new subject in this painting: the lake. The lake reflects the trees, fooling the viewer into seeing a broader image. The lake creates a sense of openness and welcomes the viewer into the painting. The ways the trees blend also offer comfort for the viewer, as if they were a form of safety or protection. The overall feeling this painting creates is warm, and inviting.

My choice of focus is Monet because of the connection I feel with a wide selection of his works. The various meadows, fields, trees, and lakes that he focuses on all remind me of my childhood years. Back in Ukraine, each summer, my cousins and I would spend July and August in the country, where our grandfather built a house. We would cross a bridge to the lake, which also ran along our backyard. We would put on our old clothes and go visit a large tree to pick berries. On the way, we would walk through a field of grass. It was one of my favorite places. Walking through that grass I felt a sense of purity, coupled with a feeling of limitless possibility. The vastness of the grass, the mystery behind what lay where I had not been fascinated me. It still does. I feel this vastness and the feeling of nature’s grandeur are captured in Monet’s work. I find sometimes I can better connect to the trees Monet captures than any of the portraits I have seen of the earlier eras.

Monet’s work is great in that although the location may not change, slight subtleties of color and focus can fully transform the effect emitted by the painting.  Although Monet’s work was not immediately accepted, it has become a trademark of the Impressionist movement. Monet and his fellow impressionists found success in innovation. He found something new to be inspired by and different ways to view the world. I am certain that many can find joy, stimulation, and an appreciation for nature after viewing the work of Monet.

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