Monday, March 17, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 5)

Similarly, the artist painted and repainted the same scene of a view of the Parliament building from across the Thames River in London.  At different times of day and in different weather conditions, it of course appeared very different and provided his paintings with variety.  Even more interestingly than his Rouen series, however, is the total spatial ambiguity that these paintings render.  Naturally, this can be attributable to both the distance at which Monet is from the subject and also the typically foggy weather that characterizes London; but even considering those two factors, the Houses of Parliament still don't look like the Houses of Parliament here, do they?  It's been said that the Victoria Tower is painted here to look more like a tombstone rising from a foggy graveyard than an active center for political legislation.
There is this concept that through art variant images can be made of things we thought we knew—honest images, but perhaps shown from a perspective we might not have thought of before, causing us to question the world around us.  When seen as a painting, objects, places, or even people that we know take a different shape, a different form.  Through art we can rediscover the world, see things we may not have seen before but also (more importantly) see things in a new light.  This painting of the Houses of Parliament gives us a feeling not just for the atmospheric environment (the soft light of sunrise, as Monet was intending to convey); it also gives us an emotional reaction to the place itself, does it not?  We are given an impression of Parliament from seeing it like this.  In that sense, I wouldn't say Impressionist paintings are solely about sunlight and atmosphere, though those are probably the style's most definitive elements; the way the subject gets painted is also key, and that in turn results in an impression made on the viewer.  As this doesn't come into the artwork of Claude Monet much but rather in the later works of other Impressionists, I'll delve further into this as we go on.
A useful trick for many of Monet's paintings is that they were meant to be viewed from a distance.  Up close, this painting would be indiscernible, but from several steps back we see the full picture—the tower, the sun, the reflection on the water—and can grasp a realization of what we are looking at.  Paintings like these would appear to be simple splotches of color from too close, since that is, essentially, what they are.  No lines give objects clarity except wispy alterations in hue.  Again, Monet does this because he is painting something that cannot be painted with lines; he is painting the intangible light as seen through the morning atmosphere, and he is painting the visible air of fog all around the scene.  How does one paint fog?  The answer is: you really can't.  You can only give the impression (aha!) of fog through painting blurred shapes and blending colors.  Here the whole painting is centered around the fog and the light as the impression of the environment around London on this particular morning.  Monet captures not just the subject but the experience of the subject.  Perhaps you can almost feel the cold of the atmosphere just by looking at this painting.  Or perhaps you can see the fog in the artist's airy brushstrokes.  This is the impression the artist creates.

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