“IF the stroke, the contrast of colors, and
“IF MONET IS REGARDED AS THE IMPRESSIONIST par excellence, one must admitthat both Degas and Renoir also have their own special qualities. Czanne,too, merits individual study, although his development in relation to laterart seems to set him somewhat apart from the Impressionist movement as awhole.
However, when considered with reference to Monet’s life and work,the concepts applied in interpreting Impressionist art – in particular,those of the impression, the stroke, the contrast of colors, and theconsistency with which the consequences of the Impressionist ideas visibleat the beginning of an artist’s career are elaborated in the long course ofthat individual career – make Monet’s position central.”By his fellow painters Monet was regarded as a leader, not because he wasthe most intellectual or theoretically minded or because he was able toanswer questions that they could not answer, but because in his art heseemed to be more alert to the possibilities latent in their common ideas,which he then developed in his work in a more radical way than did theothers. Considering how all these painters developed their intenselypersonal manners with respect to the new artistic ideas, we may observethat the new elements appeared most often for the first time in the work ofMonet and then were taken over by the other Impressionists, whoincorporated them as suggestions or as definite means and applied them intheir own ways.”A clear example of Monet’s influence can be noted in the change in Degas’sart after the middle 1870s when his color began to approach that of theother Impressionists and he employed techniques, particularly in pastel,that gave to the whole a more granular, broken, and flickering effect -qualities not found in his earlier work.
That is true also of Czanne,Pissarro, and Renoir. Monet showed the way, even if the development of theothers seemed to diverge from his.”There is still another reason for Monet’s outstanding position as anImpressionist.
If we compare his paintings over a short period with thepaintings of the others, we see that while the others painted within arestricted range of ideas and even of feelings, so that the Renoirs of theperiod 1873-76 are characterized by the joyousness in a collective world ofrecreation described earlier, Monet, with his powerful, ever alert eye, wasable to paint at the same time brilliant pictures and also rather grayedones in neutral tones. He was more reactive, he had more of that qualitythat psychologists of that time called “Impressionability.” That is to say,he was open to more varied stimuli from the common world that for thesepainters was the evident source of the subjects of their paintings.”Monet could appear variable at any given moment, producing many surprisinginterpretations of the common matter.
He altered his technique according tohis sense of the quality of the whole, whether joyous or somber, that hewanted to construct in response to the powerful stimulus from the objectthat engaged him in the act of painting. Similarly, over the course ofyears, his art underwent a most remarkable general transformation. Theearly work of Monet appears as a painting of directly seen objectscharacterized by great mobility and variety. His art is a world of streetsand harbors, beaches, roads, and resorts, usually filled with human beingsor showing many traces of human play and activity. In the late work,however, Monet excluded the human figure.
There are practically noportraits and no figure paintings by Monet after the middle 1880s and fewbetween 1879 and 1885. From that period, we can count all his figurepaintings on one hand. He also gave up still life and painted no genregroups. He restricted himself to an increasingly silent and solitary world.
“When Monet traveled to Venice and London, he pictured those great citiesfrom a distance, in fog or sunlight, without the clear presence of humanbeings and with no suggestion of their movement through that space. Hetended, moreover, to shift from the painting of large to small fields; and,whereas at first the large fields were painted on small canvases, later hepainted a small field – water in a nearby pool or a few flowers in hisgarden – life-size and seemingly larger than life, as if he wished to givea maximum concreteness and the most intimate presence to a small spacethat, although only a segment, was for him a complete world. He moved inhis art from a world with deep, horizontal planes in long perspectives -the paths of carriages and traffic – to a world in which the plane of thewater or the ground seen from close by has been tilted upward and hasbecome vertical, like the plane of a picture or mirror. The quality oflandscape as the extended human environment, the old traversability ofspace, has been minimized in the later work.”Monet offers one of the most extraordinary transformations known in thelifework of an artist. But it does relate to an observed trait of manyartists in their old age.
An attempt has been made to characterize in broadterms a style of old age – what the Germans call an Alterstil – as if thelate works of Titian, Rembrandt, Tintoretto, and Monet must have somethingin common. In old age they lived presumably more within themselves than inthe “world,” and from this tendency of aged artists seems to flow certaincharacteristics of their art. This theory rests on an arbitrary selectionof old artists, however, and one can point to Ingres, whose last pictures,such as The Turkish Bath, painted in his eighties, are of an indomitablesensuality and sometimes surprisingly naive and tangible in thevoluptuousness of the forms. Or Pissarro, the fellow painter of Monet, who,beginning with idyllic pastoral subjects, painted in his old age streetsand crowds, steamboats, factories, and people, the reverse of the processthat we have observed in Monet.”Besides his academic nudes, Renoir began by painting the sociability ofhis own world – pictures of his artist friends and the pleasures of Paris;but as he grew older, he withdrew from this public world. He stillrepresented human figures, even more passionately than before.
But they arecompletely domestic figures – a child, the nurse, the mistress, the wife,always a figure presented in an intimate relation to the observer or thepainter. Monet never painted a nude, and one may suspect that his vastworld of nature and the theme of water played in his art the role that thefantasy about women or children or mothers played in the imagination ofother artists. All his variety, from the stillness of the lilly pond to theawful turbulence of waves beating on the rocks, may have to do with thefeelings or passions that in other artists can be recognized in theirmythology and subjects or through a fanciful imagery of human figures.”