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Claude Monet composing

Virginia Spate writes like Monet paints, and this could equally have been written about the ’Garden scene’: “The painting, ‘In the Norvègienne’, is composed in scales of closely related colours… Although these colours convey the subjective impression of the fragile moment, they are so abstracted that they no longer indicate imminent change. The intensely still painting suggests a prolonged moment which will never end.”, (Spate: Claude Monet, The Colour of Time, p.187.)

Let us continue and try to find out how Monet arranged the idyll of the ‘Garden scene’, and compare it to some other paintings.

The left wing is built up by the round shape of the chair, and by the bushes, with the leaves like a curtain behind.
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The oval shape of the table gives an impression of depth, and forms the right wing of the scene. See also how the table is cut off by the edge.
The right hand side outline of the skirt goes directly to her eyes. From her eyes, our eyes will continue to the ‘needle’ in her hand.
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If we follow the left leg of the table, we end up in the center 'needle point'.
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We can easily find out how carefully Monet calculated his compositions. When we take the measurements of the painting and in this way find out were the exact central point of the picture is, we will find that it is exactly were the needle in her hand is. This also remains the focus for her concentration and for our eyes. More about this soon…

The Claude Monet 'looking through' effect

Let us have a closer look at what we are calling the ‘looking through’ phenomenon. The gravel walk continues further on into the garden, behind the model. Please note how we can ‘look through’ the model. We are able to see the gravel walk even under the cloth, she is working with. (Click detail to the right.)

This is strengthening the 3-D effect in the painting, and is an important detail, so very typical for Monet. We are able to look through the models, rocks, vaults of bridges, tree trunks, foliage and whatever Monet chose to paint. The purpose is obvious. Monet creates and strengthens the depth dimension by choosing angles from which you can see through the models etc. The small details that seem so unimportant, turn in fact out to be very important indeed, and again, certainly are not there by coincidence!

Unfortunately much of the effect of this way of creating the perspective in the ‘Garden-scene’ has been destroyed. The canvas was once varnished. This varnish turned brown by old-age. Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to remove it from the parts of the cloth, that was left uncovered by paint. We can only imagine how the painting once looked like, when the colour of the canvas played it’s original part in the ensemble of the colours. This way of leaving part of the canvas unpainted, and letting its own colour perform with the others, is indeed very typical for Monet. For his way of working, for his technique, and for the elaboration of the canvas.

The beach at Trouville

Another example of this we find in: ‘The beach at Trouville’, 1870, (W158), chosen here only because of the similar scene. (The hand of the sewing women is left unpainted – to be compared with our unpainted cloth). In this painting we also find a good example of ‘looking through – objects’, with the effect this ‘trick’ renders to the picture. Take a small piece of paper and cover the chair back and you will understand the important part it really plays! The 3D - effect disappears, the figures look like cut paper silhouettes!

Next we shall have a glimpse at some other works that come close to our ‘pochade’, because that is what it is.  Do not forget this fact when comparing with finished canvases, signed and sold by the artist.

Much of the nerve, the impression, we find in the ‘Pochade’, has often disappeared in the finished painting. The ‘impression’ of the short moment, caught by Monet in front of the motif, is often lost. This due to the fact that he continued to work on his canvases over several days, when the right circumstances appeared. Later they were sometimes reworked in the atelier, and the brush work became less strong.

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