The Early Years


By Iride Aparicio

Photos By: Antonio Gadong  

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View near Rouelles, 1858,  Marunuma Art Park, Asaka, Japan

The first picture MONET exhibited to the public

SAN FRANCISCO, CA --  Even when observing it at close distance at the "MONET: The Early  Years  Exhibition"  at  the  Museum of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco,  View near Rouelles looks more like a photograph than as an oil painting.  The technique  of  OSCAR-CLAUDE  MONET  (1840-l926)  its painter,  was unique.    

Unique is also this exhibition of more than 50 of MONET's paintings, because it is the first major US exhibition devoted to the initial phase of his career ( l858 to l872),  and it included the first painting  that MONET  submitted it  to The Exposition Municipal de la Ville de Havre in l858, when the was eighteen years old, View Near Rouelles.

To art lovers, View Near Rouelles  is significant  because  it was the first of  MONET’s  paintings that the people saw. Because of it, examining the picture  allows them  not only to observe his precocious skills, but to become acquainted with  his visual language,  expressed  in his selection of:  Color,  Perspective,  Lighting and Darkness, Shapes, Movement and Texture  when he first started painting. By comparing  View Near Rouelles  with MONET’s  later paintings they can detect how  the artist was modifying his  early techniques, in later years, and even changing them.  

Interesting to notice, in MONET’s first painting, is the economy in his color palette.  View Near Rouelles,  uses  three colors: green, blue, and white, and by changing their hue (the different gradations of a color)  MONET  managed to create a beautiful  panoramic picture and give it perspective.

We will never learn how  MONET  planned his  perspective in  View near Rouelles,  but if we observe  the oil on canvas,  we could detect that the painting is divided  into three unequal horizontal tiers,  the one closest to us a grass field with a pond of water at the bottom,  which divides the panoramic view into two vertical sides.

To make this bottom part of the painting  “feel” closer to the viewer, MONET may have used a  very thin brush to be able to paint every  small object in detail. In the painting we could distinguish the leaves, the bushes, the flowers growing around the pond, and even the  turfs of grass. Still part of the bottom tier but further on,  in the right side,  there is a wider  tree, painted in darkness, with pointillist strokes (using the brush dipped in paint to make small points on the painting)  representing the leaves and the branches.   MONET,  may have painted this tree without much detail  to indicate to the viewer  that this tree is further away.  He also may have used the fisherman, wearing a blue shirt and straw hat,  sitting on the river bank to give size-perspective to his painting. The best effect of  perspective  in this picture, however,  is in the pond  where we see the reflection of the trees in the background, in the water.   

The  middle  layer of the picture, was painted in a darker hue of green with the horizontal line of different heights trees at time blending with the green mountains. There are tree tall trees, close to us, but those standing in line are smaller, to give the eye the illusion than they are further away. The painting of  these  trees, is not detailed  for a more realistic distance effect.

The third tier is actually the sky. It is light blue, but the perspective  of distance  is given by the tall slender trees far away,  that seem to  scrape  the clouds.  The clouds are white but not static, they were given  “movement”  by MONET, when he added  lines of  of slightly darker blue crossing them horizontally.  The effect, gives the clouds the appearance  to be drifting in the wind.

A different  example of how  MONET  created perfect  Perspective  is seen below  in  one of the few paintings  that  MONET painted while living  in Fontainebleau, France.

The Pavé de Chailly in the Forest of Fountenbleau l865
The Pavé de Chailly in the Forest of Fontainebleau l865          Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen

When we look at this painting we observe that the trees close to us are represented by a dark blotch of paint and only detailed at the  at the edges.  MONET may have used little detail in the left side of it, which he left in shadow, with the purpose  to move our eyes directly to the  “vanishing  point” in the painting, which is the narrowest part of the Parisian sky, which we see as an arrow-shaped figure with a patch of blue to the right and shapeless grey clouds stretching over it.  

In this  picture, MONET  also uses  the effect of light and shadow perfectly,  to create his perspective.  By having contrast of darkness (on the left side)  and light (on the right) we the viewer, are lead to look at the vanishing point .  Interesting also in this picture is to observe the MONET's technique when he painted the trees’ shadows on our left,  the tree trunk on our right, and the grass below.

MONET was famous for his effects of  Lighting and Shadows.  In Fishing Boats, the painting below,  he uses a creative way of light and shadows to create a different perspective.   By lighting the background,  the viewer is “forced” to look at the boats in the front, which are dark.

Fishing Boats l866

Fishing Boats l866 Private collection

What is marvelous in the picture is that the light effect in the background, created by wide brush strokes of grey blended  with the white oil paint help us se the ropes on the sails.

While two of the three boats are in the dark, If we look carefully at their masts with rolled sails, each one  of them was given form with light and darkness. There are three boats in the picture but only one (the blue one in the center) has color, the other two are black, yet MONET mastery used the darkness for perspective. Another masterful painting effect is at the bottom part of the painting, where with vertical  brush strokes he makes us “see”  the water.

MONET also used “Shapes”  in the creation of his pictures and we selected the one below  to demonstrate  how.

Meditation, Madame Monet sitting on a Sofa, l870-71
Meditation, Madame Monet sitting on a Sofa, l870-71 Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The is  picture of CAMILLE MONET,  the painters wife Lost is thought, is interesting not only because it is one of  MONET's earliest  portraits,  but because it appears  to have been constructed using  rectangular shapes.  One is the sofa, where Madame MONET is sitting, which is rectangular. The wall behind it, is another rectangle.  The elongated wooden frame of the window, and the blue and white curtains are vertical rectangles.  In the background,  the top of the fireplace is rectangular and so is the  red book  Mrs. MONET  is holding in her hand.  And if we observe her body, by being stretched as she is sitting, it creates another  rectangular shape.

And the early paintings of  MONET  also show us that he did not only learned how to use water and its  reflections  early, but also how to “create the illusion” of moving objects in water. A marvelous example is The Green Wave shown below, where we “see” that the three sail boats are rocking .

The Green wave c. l866-67
The Green wave c. l866-67 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Apparently, when  impressionism stressed the primacy to establish landscapes to be the direct transcriptions of the ocular sensation, MONET  not only followed the trend, but he added movement.

An analytic  closer look, at the The Green Wave show us that he “created the illusion” of the waves movement  by using thin parallel  undulating  brushes’ strokes  using different hues  of green and blue, to create the waves’ shapes.  He created the foam effect, by  actually splashing white paint under the hull of the boat and  painting  stretched blotches of it close behind it.  The foam in the background  is created  grey paint with hundreds of pointillist white dots scattered over it.  The hulls of the boats are created by light and darker brown strokes  and the sails of the boats,  by triangular shapes, white and brownish strokes. By leaning at different angles the boats give the viewer the  impression that at the moment they are  “sailing on rough sea”   

In this painting,  dated l868, MONET  seems to be experimenting with Impressionistic style of painting by using  few and thick brushes strokes  to create  texture.  He became master of this type of painting  in his later years and used often in his pictures. He may have started  using it as a quick way to paint, as demonstrated by  this portrait  of his sleepy son, believed to be painted in Fecamp in the late Summer.

Jean Monet Sleeping l868
Jean Monet Sleeping l868    Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The thick strokes of  MONET’s brush in this crude portrait of  his sleeping baby,  may indicate that he was painting this portrait with few strokes and  in a hurry,  (maybe hoping that the baby would not  wake up) The result is that the child’s  cheeks, are too red, and his chin crooked.  The child’s  right hand  was  never completed,  and his/her  left hand  needs also to be finished. The brown  lines,  on the baby’s smock  are crooked,  and one of the black lines on  the top of the gown,  turned up at the center 

Everything is this pictures was done fast, so with the exception of the child’s face, the rest of the picture, including the doll and the  pillow, were painted with the bare minimum of strokes. As we observe this painting, done with very little detail, we move our  imagination forward.  We may be watching the start of the style of painting that MONET was going to adopt  in the last years of his life. 

With a selection of works gathered from the most important international collections –the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other public and private collections worldwide, MONET: The Early Years Exhibition at the  Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, which includes many genres, is unique. It is the exhibition that all art lovers must visit.

THE LEGION OF HONOR MUSEUM (which is closed on Mondays) is located at l00 34th Avenue in San Francisco, 94121. For information and tickets you can call at (415) 750-3600.