Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 6)

This is a work by Claude Monet depicting a train station in Paris.  Although the sun appears to be shining brightly in this painting, our lines of clarity are once again distorted by the atmospheric effect of the scenic environment.  Here it is steam and exhaust from the locomotive engines rolling in and out of the station.  Monet paints everything here with a hasty and capricious brush, literally dotting color spots here and there to give a picture of the energetic movement and sights at such a busy place.  You will recall Édouard Manet's painting The Railway, which focused on the brief moment of time in which a woman looked up from her book while seated by a fence, assumedly awaiting the train.  Manet's painting looked flatly drawn and hurriedly completed because the subject was such a transitory one.  Here, Claude Monet has dotted and speckled his canvas with paint in an even faster pace, speedily constructing the scene with little attention to detail because the image will soon change, and then the artist would have to start over.  The scene is always changing; and while the artist could make his quick sketch and add the detail in later to better finish the painting, Impressionists like Monet chose to leave their works looking unfinished to more accurately depict their subject's constant kinesis and brevity.  A train station is an especially bustling center for activity and energy.  To capture this in his work, the artist had to paint with equal rapidity and liveliness.
And Monet frequently liked to include people in his landscapes and scenes (lest you think he was all haystacks and cathedrals).  This beautiful painting of a Poppy Field Near Argenteuil features women and children out for a stroll in an open field.  The red flowers stand out brilliantly in the scene, and yet for them the artist only used quick dabs of paint.  But that's all they need.  This is another good example of the artist's illusion of visual focus.  When looked at from a distance, the otherwise blurry flower patch becomes clearer.  You can even test this out for yourself right now.  Click on the image of the painting above, and the link should enlarge the image.  Once it's full-screen, walk about six steps back (or to the back of the room) and turn around to face your computer screen again.  Once you're standing at such a distance away from the screen, look at the flower patch in the painting and see if it looks different than up close.  (Obviously this works better with the actual, original painting that Monet created himself, but this must suffice for now, until we can all afford a trip to Paris to see it in person at the Musée d'Orsay).

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