Friday, 18 March 2011

Impressionism Research (Monet/Sisley)

Exploring Concepts

Part 6 – Parallel Projects

Project: Spring

Impressionism Research

This movement was responsible for the idea of painting ‘en plein air’, it was actually Boudin whose way of working started the idea within the group.  Monet, a Norman, knew Boudin who also lived and worked near Le Havre. Their idea was to capture a scene as it initially presents itself to the artist using small brush strokes to capture light and the spontaneity so redolent of the Impressionist style.

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Sisley, of English parentage, made an easy introduction into the world of art as his parents were relatively wealthy, however that changed during the Franco Prussian war when his father’s business went bankrupt.  He painted landscapes mainly on the Seine and his style whilst true to the Impressionist genre.  In his youth he had been influenced by Constable and Turner as well as the Dutch landscape artists. Unfortunately Sisley was unable to earn a living selling paintings, and he had to move his family from house to house due to difficulties with rent.  He eventually decided not to send work to the last 1886 Impressionist Exhibition but to work quietly in the countryside.  It is now accepted that his work was undervalued during his lifetime. 

Sisley never allowed his subject matter to be subsumed or faded into the paint as Turner and indeed Monet did.  His early work is influenced by Corot using flat planes of colour, but later he adopts the short brushstrokes characteristic of the Impressionists.

 View of Montmartre from the Cite Des Fleurs, Les Batignolles, 1869. © Bridgeman Library

 He also uses the colour palette synonymous with Monet, Renoir, Manet and Degas, nonetheless his doesn’t achieve the same looseness of others until about the mid 1870’s.  He paints some excellent winter scenes.

                                          The Walk 1890, ©Bridgeman Library

 Perspective and realism remained important to him throughout his life, although there is the hint of change in his late pastel painting of the Goose Girl when he was suffering with Cancer, just before he died.

                                           Goose Girl, Pastel
                                                        © Bridgeman Library

There is no doubt in my mind that his work was and to a certain extent still is underestimated.  It is interesting to draw comparison between Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series with Sisley’s work of the Church at Moret, Frosty Weather, 1893.  Sisley did a similar painting in 1894 in Evening Light, and about 13 others of the same subject, so he too was interested in different atmospheric affects, on the same subject, but never explored the essence of atmosphere for its own sake as Monet did.

                                         Church at Moret, Frosty Weather, 1893
                                                       ©Bridgeman Library

Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)
Monet’s early work is quite representational and does not have the impressionist feel that he later developed although his ability to capture light is evident; it is also interesting to note his signature “O”scar “Monet” on his early work.

                                           View at Rouelles, 1858. ©Bridgeman Library

Later we see the development of distinctive short brush strokes which permit more light to be introduced into the painting surface, a prime Impressionist trait.

                                      Woman with Parasol, Mdme Renoir and her son, 1875
                                                    ©Bridgeman Library

Whilst living at Argenteuil, we see in Monet’s work of the 1870’s an amazing output of work in the Impressionist style, works such as On the Beach at Trouville 1870; Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877, Madame Monet, 1875, which is exuberant and joyful in its presentation.

Monet painted alongside Sisley on occasions, as well as Renoir and others.  He worked side by side with Sisley on The Seine at Argenteuil, La Grande rue at Argenteuil, Boulevard Heloise at Argenteuil and they both painted pictures called Snow at Argenteuil.  When Sisley encountered financial difficulties towards the end of his life Monet arranged the sale of Sisley’s painting to help support his remaining family.
 Life at that time was good for Monet. His interest in Japanese prints which was a fascination for many of the Impressionists, also influences his work, although the companion piece, Mme Monet in Japanese Costume, to the Woman in the Green Dress, was said by the artist to be a “caprice”, and you can sense he was having fun painting it, with the tricolour on the fan, and his wife’s blonde wig.

                                           Mdme Monet and Child 1875 © Bridgeman Library

The death of Camille, in 1879, brings about a change in Monet, who had by then moved the Vetheuil.  Monet is depressed  at this time and his work indicates this, The church at Varengeville, 1882 displays little perspective but an almost Expressionist approach to paint. In 1883 he moves to Giverney.

1886 sees another change in Monet’s work, he personally is more relaxed and his work becomes less tense.  He begins to explore atmosphere and the effects of light in detail through his  Haystack series, and Poplar series of 1891, later to be followed by the Rouen Cathedral series, of 1894.  London paintings of 1889-1904 during his visits to England, also incorporate London Bridge paintings which explore atmosphere.

These series paintings dissolve in light and become almost abstract, and eliminating perspective.  Indeed Kandinsky commented on ‘the power of the palette which had been hidden from him’ after seeing the Haystracks in a Moscow Exhibition.

Monet developed his series paintings of Rouen Cathedral with 30 in all painted between 1892 and 1893.
Apart from a trip to Venice to paint, Monet eventually settles down at Giverney and begins to paint his famous waterlilly series, lasting some 27 years, which for him represented a period of peace and contemplation, though failing eyesight.  He had lost his second wife in 1911 and his son Jean and almost gave up painting.  To overcome his grief he was encouraged by Clemenceau and set up a huge new studio to accommodate the canvases used for the waterlilly paintings.  These paintings, and indeed the garden itself, become the focus of Monet’s life. Panoramas of light, atmosphere and sky suggesting space beyond the borders, infinite views where the waters are deep and mysterious topped with capricious water-lillies sparkling in the sunlight.  Therefore quite unlike Sisley his painting style develops over time, and as with many artists it is marked by changed personal circumstances, which inevitably must affect emotional responses to the world. He was an innovator who wasn’t prepared to allow his art to stand still.

Anderson, Janice: Life and Works of Sisley, Parragon Book Service Limited, 1994
Seitz, William C:  Claude Monet, Thames and Hudson 1960, 1984

1 comment: