|The Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet, oil painting, 1899.
Mitchell Albala is an inspiring art instructor in the field
of landscape painting
, and it turns out he's an awesome detective as well.
Recently, he did some sleuthing on a rare video clip of Monet in the act of painting—incredible!—and shared his findings with us. Who needs Sherlock?!
there were any artist, past or present, into whose studio I could magically
transport myself and observe him paint, it would be Claude Monet. I have always
been intrigued by his painting style, especially the highly textured and
complex surfaces of his landscape paintings.
I discovered a short video of him painting in his gardens at Giverny I was
thrilled. Yes, the video is short, in black and white, and you can barely see
the surface of his painting or much of his palette. Yet, this is the only such
record of him painting I have ever seen, so I thought it would be
interesting to play studio detective and see what I might learn if I studied
the film in detail.
- Fierce observation
As a landscape artist, I naturally expected Monet to observe
his subject. Yet, the constancy with which he observes is astonishing. Except
for the time he takes to clean his brush, he turns to his subject every two or
- Strokes of broken color
and the other Impressionists abandoned the approach of blending colors over
large areas in favor of placing individual strokes side by side, and allowing
the eye to mix those spots of color at a distance. Here we witness the action
that produces these daubs and dashes of "broken color." At certain
moments, the strokes are fairly short "dashes." Other times he makes
longer vertical strokes (1:09). There is no blending or rubbing, just one
thrust of the brush. He holds the brush fairly far back along the shaft and
extends his arm, reaching to the canvas. After just a few strokes, he returns
to the palette for more color.
pauses for a fraction of a second to choose his brush. Monet thinking—caught on
film! He uses four brushes. They appear to be the same size, so almost
certainly the various brushes were assigned different colors.
One brush also
appears to be unusual—quite pointy with the bristles forming a triangular
shape. Perhaps it was a brush he had custom made or it was a regular brush that
had worn down.
- Palette and mixing
we get a glimpse of the artist's palette. Given how "loaded" with
paint the surface of his paintings were, I was a little surprised not to see
larger daubs of pigment squeezed out on Monet's palette.
Stance and orientation: When painting
outdoors (or with any subject, for that matter) it is often recommended that you put your subject as close to your line of sight as
possible. This reduces the amount of head turning necessary. Here, though,
Monet is turning a full 90 degrees to the right to view his subject. This was
likely because of the size of the canvas. Had he propped it up in front of
himself, it would have blocked his view.
||December by Mitchell Albala, oil on panel,
12 x 16, 2001.
Albala credits Monet for being a keen
observer, but Albala is none too shabby himself given all that he gleaned and
shared with us about the premier Impressionist's process. For more insightful
observations and lessons from Albala, take the opportunity to explore his book,
Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air
and Studio Practice.
P.S. If you want to do your own
sleuthing, check out the Monet video on your own and share what you learn by
leaving a comment with us.