Monday, December 14, 2009

"Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment." Claude Monet

Thinking about water lately, as I've logged a lot of time watching moving water at swim meets. (Dali's melting clocks come to mind, too.) Been thinking about Monet's lifelong fascination with water and persistence in looking endlessly at nature as it changed around him.

At a remove of a century, I think it's common to look back and assume that an artist would recognize a subject where and as he/she found it, and just set up to capture the scene. I was in
terested to learn that there was a fair amount of stage managing that Monet undertook to get his subjects the way he wanted them. And he faced his share of frustrations along the way.

When he first moved to Giverny in 1883 he encountered a few problems. He had brought 4 boats with him from Paris, but because of the tides and the narrowness of the channel, he could not bring the barge he used as a studio close to the house at nig
ht (he wanted to paint from the boat instead of the riverbank.) "I'm afraid I've made a mistake by settling so far away. It all seems quite hopeless" he wrote to gallery owner Georges Durand-Ruel. He started to feel better about things once he found a place to leave the boat, settled in, and started "to get to know a new landscape." (p. 19, Monet's Years at Giverny, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

He discovered a row of poplars less than two miles aw
ay in a marsh in Limetz. He was so entranced by them that he paid a lumber dealer not to cut them down immediately after they had been sold.

He also had to make some arrangements to make sure he co
uld work on his largest series, the water lilies. He had to get permission from the city council to decree that he could divert a branch of the Epte River which crossed his land. The council made the diversion conditional - he was not allowed to impede the flow of the water with sluices; it needed to flow freely to ensure there was no health hazard to those living along the river.

What makes them so mesmerizing? No reproduction does them justice. Have you seen them? This description offered by Maurice Guillemot seems to get at the shimmering, changing quality of the painting:

On the glassy surface of the water float lilies, those extra
ordinary aquatic plants whose large leaves spread wide and whose large exotic blossoms are curiously unsettling. . . .The colors are fluid, with marvelous nuances, ephemeral as a dream.

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