The impressionist eyes of Claude Monet

The impressionist eyes of Claude Monet

To John Berger and Yves Bonnefoy, in memory of their complicity in multiple glances

Exists in modern painting a select group of painters, so to speak, that regardless of their individual vicissitudes and contradictions and disagreements with critics and the public that touched their support, have survived fashions and historical criteria as an example and model of visual sensitivity: Velázquez, Poussin, Monet, Cézanne and Picasso occupy the first order. But the case of Claude Monet (Paris, 1840 – Giverny, 1926), is for the eyes of our time, a case out of series, not only for being the creator of impressionism, and, of course, a determining artist in the creation of American abstract expressionism, but also, to define the topic of light and color, which turned French art into a yearning for pictorial eternities.

Disciple of Boudin in Normandy, he approached Paris with the look of the school of Barbizon: Pisarro, Sisley and Renoir, who were his accomplices. The painting of Manet and Courbet was the challenge that encouraged him on the always tortuous path of technical virtuosity without manners of condescension. In the Salon of 1865 his name was confused with Manet with catastrophic results. Excluded from all official manifestation, his itinerary was slow and lonely: from realism to chromatic naturalism, with a tendency every time more secure towards the analysis of the tonal sensations that distinguish pictorial truth. Only in 1874, with Cézanne, Morisot, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley, are they configured in société anonyme that will invent impressionism – from “Impressions”, powerful point without figurative condescension -. His criticism fortune should say too, has been the group: the scorn and derision that greeted the first projects of the dealer Durand Rouel, the modest success in London and New York in 1886. In his poem Four Poplars discovers Octavio Paz Magical waters, the poetic blue, the delirious look and the almost visible air in Monet’s paintings:

Between the sky and the water there is a blue and green stripe:
sun and aquatic plants, flaming calligraphy written by the wind.
It is a reflection suspended in another.

The last work of Monet – which was exhibited in London in the old Burlington House in 1999 – was before the eyes of the contemporary viewer, it could be seen as a sublime fetish. To delve, in short, into the constant formal rectifications that Monet imposed on the process of narrative purification that starts with the twentieth century. His Mediterranean landscapes, the views of London and Venice, the series that progressively tense his work, are always individualized reasons for a very personal research on painting.

I think it is important not to claim a modern Monet, but rather, to underline the constructive and formal features that force an old painter to break away from the figurative mold of a consolidated tradition and embark on a new adventure. Abstraction and construction, against the grain of nature, are two essential artistic aspects of this turn that makes Monet’s art new. It is said that at his death was on the table of the painter’s studio an open copy of Baudelaire: “… singular country, superior to others, as art is superior to nature, transformed by the dream, corrected, embellished, redone … ” They follow the series, which earned him fame, of the Thames, the poplars next to the Epte or the cathedral of Rouen, with unconventional compositional schemes and inspired by Japanese graphics, and a new breath more dramatic and rich in atmospheres. The figure disappears and a modern nature is imposed on the form. “Monet believed – says John Berger – that his art was a prophetic art and that it was based on the scientific study of nature. Or, at least, this is what he started believing and what he never gave up. The degree of sublimation implied by this belief is pathetically demonstrated in the history of the painting that made Camille on his deathbed. Camille died at thirty-two. Many years later, Monet confessed to his friend Clemenceau that his need to analyze colors constituted both joy and the torment of his life. So much so, he went on to say, that one day I found myself looking at the lifeless face of my beloved wife and the only thing that occurred to me was to systematically observe the colors, how taken by an automatic reflex! “1

An obsession to achieve a living, absolute painting. Installed in Giverny since 1883, its objective hardly changes and it becomes a vital experience: face painting to impossible things. The water that reflects the objects capriciously and refracts the shadows. The sun that hurts vegetation scattering sensitive fragments. The sky as a chromatic binder that dissolves any stable identity. Nature and pictorial reality confused in an absolute color that some approximate contemporary lyrical abstraction without other criteria than the apparent formal analogy.

The water lily ponds, however, are something else. Monet has rejected the figurative conventions of his time, but also the aesthetic conventions of Impressionism. His paintings are not fields of color that synthesize a composition theory centrifuged by tonalities. They are the sensitive effects of precise gestures that constitute the creative rhythm of the person, the material projection of a vital impulse always sensitive to things.

Courbet painted seascapes in Cabanes and is portrayed greeting the immensity of the landscape with his usual theatrical gesture. Cézanne observes with scientific attention the shores of L ‘Estaque: the light discovers the cunning of the almost architectural modeling of its plastic sign. Monet, however, accentuates the bright reverberation of light that unifies the sky, earth and water in a landscape flooded by the sun (La mer d ‘Antibes). Monet assimilates in Bordighera and Menton a new sequence of chromatic harmonies, which will fill his years of Giverny with a variety of pictorial motifs that alone suffices to visually sustain a surprising debate against routine academicism. Indeed, impressionism is the art of accurate and brief brushstroke. No betting or sketches of the natural, but risky figurative exercises on the nothing that transmit cleanly sensitive impressions on reality. Artifices that duplicate the nature and pose a beam of visual forms of a colossal constructive power Salmonetes, 1870, by Monet, is a clear example.

“It’s just an eye, but what an eye!” Said Cézanne. It is a kind of abandonment to the specific nature of painting. To his aesthetic qualities, Monet does not paint what he sees, much less reconstruct it plastically. He paints – forcing the expression – what he sees, modifying his vision at every moment of sensitive intensity. “I want to paint the air … It seems impossible, is not it?” Monet is a modern painter: he dared as few to eliminate the depth, I paint with very long brushstrokes, intense colors, without reaching the edge of the canvas, creates nervous vortices that represent the avenue of roses that the Japanese bridge, or simply, a mirror of water … An almost abstract, expressionist landscape. Monet creates in all those years an “intimate landscape of timeless absolutes”. A dazzling art that provokes sensitive effects always differentiated. A world of self-sufficient color, which resists any accommodative definition.

Q: D: Monet’s secret collection is presented these days at the Marmottan Museum in Paris. “I am an egoist, my collection is only for me and a few friends,” said the artist, who managed to collect between purchases, gifts and exchanges. More than 120 pieces by Manet, Renoir, Delacroix Pissaro, Seurat, Signac, Corot and Cézanne. Of the latter stands out the black box Scipio, Monet’s first crush to continue buying his paintings. A sample curated by Marianne Mathieu and Dominique Lobtein, who reveals this almost hidden aspect of Claude Monet for collecting his contemporaries. Undoubtedly, one of the jewels exhibited in France

1 The sense of sight, John Berger. Editorial Alianza Forma, 1990, Madrid, Spain. Translation of Pílar Vázquez.

Miguel Ángel Muñoz.

text published before on La Newspaper

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