Saturday, 6 October 2012
Claude Monet: The Stroll, 1875
This masterpiece epitomizes the Impressionist concept of "the glance". It triumphs wonderfully in conveying the sensation of a snapshot in time, a stroll on a beautiful sunny day. The brushwork, feathery splashes of pulsating color, is critical in establishing this feeling of spontaneity. The portrayal of sunlight and wind also contributes to the movement in the scene. It is difficult to tell where the wispy clouds end and the wind-blown scarf of Mrs. Monet begins. The spiraling folds of her dress are a physical embodiment of the breeze that can be discerned fluttering across the canvas. The sunlight, coming from the right, provides a vigorous opposition to the wind blowing from the left. The wind and sun coalesce to form a swirling vortex in the center of the canvas, beginning with the bent grass blades and twisting through the white highlights at the back of the dress to the tip of the parasol. A singular aspect of the painting is the strong upward perspective.
Claude Monet was a key figure in the Impressionist movement that transformed French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century. Throughout his long career, Monet consistently depicted the landscape and leisure activities of Paris and its environs as well as the Normandy coast. He led the way to twentieth-century modernism by developing a unique style that strove to capture on canvas the very act of perceiving nature.
Raised in Normandy, Monet was introduced to plein-air painting by Eugène Boudin (2003.20.2), known for paintings of the resorts that dotted the region's Channel coast, and subsequently studied informally with the Dutch landscapist Johan Jongkind (1819–1891). When he was twenty-two, Monet joined the Paris studio of the academic history painter Charles Gleyre. His classmates included Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, and other future Impressionists. Monet enjoyed limited success in these early years, with a handful of landscapes, seascapes, and portraits accepted for exhibition at the annual Salons of the 1860s. Yet many of the rejection of his more ambitious works, notably the large-scale Women in the Garden (1866; Musée d'Orsay, Paris), inspired Monet to join with Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, and others in establishing an independent exhibition in 1874. Impression: Sunrise (1873; Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), one of Monet's contributions to this exhibition, drew particular scorn for the unfinished appearance of its loose handling and indistinct forms. Yet the artists saw the criticism as a badge of honor, and subsequently called themselves "Impressionists" after the painting's title, even though the name was first used derisively.