See the Impressionist Master Paint
There is awesome detective work afoot in the hallowed halls of art history. We have sleuthed out a rare video clip of Claude Monet in the act of painting (incredible!) and we want to share the insights of his every move with you. Who needs Sherlock?! Watch the clip and then read on to learn about Monet’s brushwork, poise, stance and more from artist-instructor Mitchell Albala.
Monet’s Landscape Paintings
If there were any artist, past or present, whose studio I could magically transport myself into and observe him or her paint, it would be Claude Monet. I have always been intrigued by his painting style, especially the highly textured and complex surfaces of his landscape paintings.
When I discovered the short video of him painting in his gardens at Giverny I was thrilled. Yes, the video is short, in black and white, and you can barely see the surface of his painting or much of his palette.
Yet, this is the only such record of him painting I have ever seen, so I thought it would be interesting to play studio detective and see what I might learn if I studied the film in detail. –Mitchell Albala
As a landscape artist, I naturally expected Monet to observe his subject. Yet, the constancy with which he observes is astonishing. Except for the time he takes to clean his brush, he turns to his subject every two or three seconds.
Strokes of Broken Color
Monet and the other Impressionists abandoned the approach of blending colors over large areas in favor of placing individual strokes side by side, allowing the eye to mix those spots of color at a distance.
In the video, we witness the action that produces these daubs and dashes of “broken color.” At certain moments, the strokes are fairly short “dashes.” Other times he makes longer vertical strokes (1:09).
There is no blending or rubbing, just one thrust of the brush. He holds the brush fairly far back along the shaft and extends his arm, reaching to the canvas. After just a few strokes, he returns to the palette for more color.
Monet pauses for a fraction of a second to choose his brush. Monet thinking—caught on film! He uses four brushes. They appear to be the same size, so almost certainly the various brushes were assigned different colors.
One brush also appears to be unusual — quite pointy with the bristles forming a triangular shape. Perhaps it was a brush he had custom made or it was a regular brush that had worn down.
Palette and Mixing
We also get a glimpse of the artist’s palette in the video. Given how “loaded” with paint the surface of his paintings were, I was a little surprised not to see larger daubs of pigment squeezed out on Monet’s palette.
Stance and Orientation
When painting outdoors (or with any subject, for that matter) it is often recommended you put your subject as close to your line of sight as possible. This reduces the amount of head turning necessary.
However, in the video we see Monet turning a full 90 degrees to the right to view his subject. This was likely because of the size of the canvas. Had he propped it up in front of him, it would have blocked his view.
The premier Impressionist, Monet was a keen observer but also embraced with confidence the method of simply painting the way he saw (cataracts and all!).
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