Impressions – Looking at Claude Monet’s Paintings

One of my favorite painters is the master of fleeting scenic moments Claude Monet (1840-1926). I have been seeing his work a lot lately, so was inspired to contemplate his art. When I first saw one of his Impressionist paintings, possibly the Impression, Sunrise (1872), I judged it like any classicist would, that it looked more like a mess of colors trying to depict a landscape. I could not appreciate its simplicity of less details and quick broken brushstrokes; of course, these spontaneous techniques enable depicting the beauty of the ever-changing natural surroundings as the day comes and goes with light and shadows. It cannot be explained in any profound way than that one day I was merely looking at Monet’s paintings and was mesmerized by how they are trying to capture moments of the passing day and, as I later learned, especially its transient moments in the loveliest landscapes.

The beauty of his paintings is exactly in their loose style of composition. There are no sharp details, and the colors are beautifully bright, very vivid in an apparent attempt to paint them as they appear during the rising and falling sun; in the clear cloudless day or when the sun is behind white or grey clouds. It is all perception. Particularly in the landscape paintings Monet succeeds in blending the colors that creates natural and soft definition, which are then made more realistic by his depiction of light and shadows that accentuate certain parts of the painting. The lack of rigid forms, strict lines and details, is what has always gravitated me towards his art. Monet’s vibrant and beautiful colors that essentially build his art create this pleasing harmony of light and darker shades that is captivating from afar, but also fascinating up-close for you can see his progression. It is fascinating because his Impressionist paintings look like sketches – beautiful strokes and combinations of gorgeous colors. Sketches are, of course, your initial impressions – ideas and perceptions of what you see. Amazingly, Monet stays truthful to this. In one of his series paintings, for example, he set up his easel in a railway station and “treated the interior and exterior of the Gare Saint-Lazare as a landscape, using swift brush strokes to capture steam clouds and to indicate the locomotives and the figures on the platform” (Hodge, 57, 2019). He even manages to paint an impression of a more hectic environment.

His Impressionist aesthetic is especially captivating in his landscape paintings which I find the most beautiful – particularly the atmospheric pieces depicting natural environments. Because of their overall softer composition with which they try to capture the fleeting moments in nature, focusing on light and shadow effects, they have also become these soothing works that put my mind at ease: I get this pleasure – like when being in a beautiful garden or a forest – when I look at their scenery that represent real places, and when I also try to look into Monet’s process of adding and mixing those wonderful colors. His water scenes are also mesmerizing which I sometimes look at for a while longer when going through his production. They demonstrate Monet’s artistry fully with the vividly reflecting water which movement and colors he portrays perfectly, creating those tranquil, still moments that are finely caught like in photos, but with a softer color scheme. While they try to be realistic to the extent that they are based on his perceptions, Monet's realism in painting concerns more how the actual natural environment appears before him under light and its effect on surfaces and colors. This is what I love in his work since to me his impressions and depictions show blissful warmth and emphasize the beautiful in the everyday.

The paintings are, then, stunning and impressive ways of trying to capture what is momentary in the everyday and this is where the beauty also lies in Monet's paintings. They are not trying to present an idealized picture of beauty, neither of nature or of the people he painted, but the view as it is and, interestingly, how lights and shadows appear to change; his art also portrays a more free style of painting that lets the artist compose something out of their own fascinated perceptions of nature and places around them. Susie Hodge (2017) in a lovely little introduction to art history clarifies: “Inspired by the Realists, the English landscapists and especially by [Édouard] Manet, Monet broke tradition by depicting contemporary subject matter, and often painted outdoors in order to capture the transient qualities of nature. His own distinctive style featured loose brush handling, an absence of black, and unusual compositions, and his main focus was on truthfully depicting what he saw” (110). In trying to portray what he sees but doing it with his Impressionist style, Monet’s paintings are like visual odes to nature.

It is truly striking; think about those moments outside when you look into the distance and you actually notice the day changing – suddenly the sun disappearing, the wind increasing or the day darkening like someone drew a curtain over the sky. Imagine sitting there and trying to paint or draw your impression of what is happening around you. It becomes just remarkable how Monet manages to capture the momentary: many of his paintings seem to depict those exact moments where the light is changing and altering the colors of the scene – the sun beginning to brighten the view, it just going behind grey clouds or almost going completely under the horizon, shining its last rays upon the scene. Sometimes when I just stare at Monet’s paintings, I feel his creations do more justice to the landscapes which they depict than anyone’s camera ever could if they had the chance to trace his artistic career with photographs. Maybe that's why they put me in a serene state, like being in a beautiful forest or garden. Unlike before my little awakening to Monet, I cannot imagine not being affected by his art's beauty for it really does make me see nature differently and appreciate it; this brings me incredible solace which rids me of unnecessary negativity and worry. And those beautiful colors! Those colors that definitely do his creativity justice; as a mere viewer and admirer, they are always the first thing I notice and appreciate and the last thing I leave.


Works cited:

Hodge, Susie. The Short Story of Art. Laurence King Publishing, 2017, p. 110

—— The Short Story of Modern Art. Laurence King Publishing, 2019, p. 57

Links to Monet: