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Posts Tagged ‘Monet’

Monet is popular because of his use of color.  In l967 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, under its new director Thomas Hoving,  acquired Monet’s La Terrace à Sainte-Addresse for  1.4  million. Monet had painted it in 1867, at the age of twenty-seven and had sold it for pittance because as a new father he needed the money.  But I digress.

Hoving fought to get the painting for the museum.  When he saw it in the dingy quarters of its eccentric owner, the Swedenborgian pastor Theodore Pitcairn, in a suburb of Philadelphia, he was so overcome by the painting’s beauty that he ”sat down on the bed and stared at it for what must have been an hour.” In his book, “Making the Mummies Dance,”  Hoving talks only about the exquisite colors in this painting.

Well, now, as is our custom in this blog, let’s have another look.  Colors, yes, but what about all this geometry.

I immediately notice two things in the geometry:  1) the two flag poles, making me suspect a Golden Section and 2) a dominant line at the lower right.

The Golden Section (1) is right there, defined by the flag poles and the center of the umbrella and the eye of the man in the hat, the beholder of the scene, and therefore one of us the viewers. (The bright green lines).

The dominant line (2) is the strong line dividing the pavement from the garden. (The pink line)  This line, in the Western tradition, is read as going down.  Hm, down.  Here’s this cheerful scene, which Hoving describes as pure joy, and what we get is this dominant line directing our eye down, down, down.    If you don’t immediately see the down-effect of this line, just flip the

image over.  Now, the line goes up.  When that line goes up, the joy loses all gravitas and turns the image into a tourist bureau advertisement.  Doesn’t the optimism in the flipped version become facile and trivial?

The picture within the picture that frames the man, the woman and the black sails through the use of the flag poles (3) is clearly intentional especially since the man in the hat is looking at that scene.  A few days after the birth of his son, the penniless Monet wrote to his friend Bazille: “Everything is fine here, work and family;  were it not for the birth I should be the happiest man alive.”

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted “On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt” in 1868.  He was only twenty-eight.  It’s brilliant.  The brush strokes are lively, the colors are tranquil.  But is the feeling of the painting as a whole tranquil?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s gloomy. Why does this painting have a dark mood despite its bright colors?  Why do we imagine this  woman to be sad? The inclusion of the boat at that angle, lifts the mood a bit, but still,  what a downer.  Why would such a young man paint an image with so much tension in it?

He didn’t.  What you see above is a horizontal flip of the real painting.  What Monet painted is reproduced below here. This is what we see at the Art Institute.  Isn’t this more tranquil?  Aren’t we more inclined to empathize with this woman rather than the woman on the right?  The boat, again, complicates the picture. Here it slants down, making us suspect that all is not well in this life.  If he had painted the boat slanting up from left to right, the image would be unbearably cheerful, even  corny.  Try it.

What’s interesting and important to note is that the information conveyed in each version is the same. So, it’s not about information.  If it’s not about information, what then?  I can tell you this much: it’s about feeling and empathy.  This is the third of left-right flips. If you follow these posts, it’ll dawn on you.  This should be fun.  (Go to Topics in the column at right and choose Left-Right)

Let’s go back to the boat again. Look what happens when we take out the boat altogether.  Would you agree that the boat is not there because Monet wants to tell us that the woman rowed it to the bank of the river? The boat is not part of a narrative, but is needed to complicate the mood and lend depth to the image.

Click the thumbnails  to enlarge and then play with the boat question.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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