Saturday, June 25, 2016

Learning from Monet

Here is another example of what I do with my photo files (see March 20th) as a study tool. Recently I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of American impressionists which also included some works by Monet.  The entire exhibit was wonderful.  When entering the gallery (at the Jepson Center, Savannah, GA) the first painting to great the visitors was a beautiful large painting by Monet.  A comfortable bench was thoughtfully placed before it inviting everyone to spend some time there.  Later I found a digital image of this painting and saved it to my landscape file.

This piece is magnificent- the photo does not come close to doing it justice.  I was of course struck by the beautiful composition and use of arial perspective.  There was something very familiar about it though I had never seen it before.  Many of my landscape paintings are of the local tidal marshes.  Though beautiful, the marshes are annoyingly horizontal.  Monet's painting depicts  the same type of subject matter.  The strong vertical on the right gives relief from all the horizontals, and the distant trees give the scene enormous space.  I searched my personal reference files and found this image from a marsh on Edisto Island:

Instead of a field of flowers there are marsh grasses and water.  I liked the deadwood on the right but the dark green trees in the background wall the viewer in.  Using my reference and Monet's composition I painted this:

Had I used only my reference photo I might have pushed the farthest trees out a bit, but not nearly as much as I did here.  Now I try to do this when painting other scenes on location.  If there isn't a distant tree line I make one up, trying to place it where I want the eye to go.  I now see that the light in the sky in Monet's painting leads the eye back to the strong vertical which is also the darkest value.  I failed to do that with my sky- mine takes the viewer off to the left- but I will keep that in mind the next time I paint a similar landscape.

The title of Monet's painting is Champ d"avione (Oat Field) and measures 26" x 36".  Its home is the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville.