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One of the most recognizable artists of the 19th century, Claude Monet is the quintessnetial impressionist who is widely admired as a bona fide ambassador of the art of landscape painting.
Having lived a long and turbulent life, Monet painted hundreds of works, many of which comprise series on a single subject depicted in varying light and climate conditions.
The penchant for painting such series gives the artist an enormous artistic advantage – and though it requires a matching productivity, work rate, and persistence – allowing him to represent a theme from multiple viewpoints, angles, and convey a range of moods. The series on Rouen Cathedral andHaystacks are among the best known, and considered by many critics as the pinnacle of impressionist art.
Nature and Landscape
Nature, cultivated or primordial, has been Monet's primary subject of interest. He painted it in all seasons, times of day (waking up early to catch the effects sunrise leaves on water surfaces), and weather, striving to capture minute lighte effects. He gave nature's beauty an expression, an “outlet” on the canvas, making light shimmer, break, and move in endless colorful variations.
Rouen Cathedral and Houses of Parliament, are two series that deal with large, imposing edifices (accidentally or not, they both represent two largest institutions in 19th century Europe: religion and state), the former depicted relatively up-close, the latter from afar, beyond the river Thames. The contours and the linear skeletal structure of the buildings remain the same in every part of the series: weather and light change, lending the subjects a different mood every time, despite their architectural constancy.
Haystacks focus on the symbiosis between nature and humans: though no actual farmers appear on the canvas, their labor becomes the leitmotif, portrayed, again, in changing climate and light effects. The haystacks (Monet painted one or two of these large figures on each piece), nominally the “protagonists,” can also be viewed as a mere pretext for an exploration of sun's interaction with the atmosphere. Often the shadows they leave on the ground become much more animated and interesting than their own contours. The subtext of harsh farm life never leaves the scenery.
Water Lilies (and Japanese Bridge) garden series too explore the relationship between cultivation and natural growth – but here Monet opts for smaller, more detailed theme. Instead of dividing the painted surface into ground and sky, he uses the water's reflective capacity to topple the firmament on it and achieve the same dual effect. Each flower is represented separately (though sometimes the organize into islands), each painting is a multitude that becomes a whole that's more than the sum of its parts. Richer an palette and composition, Water Lilies are also much more intimate than the Haystacks.
Poplars present a more reserved, almost minimalist series that experiment with line as much as they do with color. Following the various linear progressions becomes one of the visual rewards, often emulating the palette. Giving air much more space (in terms of proportion), the Poplar series literally appear to “breathe,” generating a sense of freedom and exuberance that escapes some of the more intimate compositions Monet created.