Look at artists who worked in a series with the landscape such as Monet, Pissaro or Cézanne. Make notes in your diary about the challenges they faced and how they tackled them.
Having done just a little sketching outside I already appreciate how much difference changing light and shadow makes and how different times of the day, seasons and weather conditions can totally transform the landscape – sometimes very rapidly. Also, shifting one’s location (viewpoint) very slightly can substantially change what you see.
This creates obvious challenges for artists as light on a landscape may change even before a quick sketch is completed and although today photography is an option, it isn’t the same as perceiving the world around us through the naked eye and often distorts light and colour and produces harsh imagery.
It does seem that some of the very greatest works of art and leaps forward by artists in terms of style have been achieved through observing the same view and painting it again and again to capture variations of colour, light and shadow. The perseverance is extraordinary. The commitment can be life-changing, in the sense of being tied to one place to observe the changing seasons as well as the daily light.
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Monet painted the same sites again and again such as Haystacks , Poplars , Rouen Cathedral ) recording his perceptions of how their appearance changed with the time of day. He devoted the last stage of stage of his life to painting the Waterlilies on his property at Giverny in France.
Haystacks Between summer 1890 and winter 1891, Monet created about thirty paintings of the haystacks in a field near his house at Giverny. In the midst of this effort, he wrote to the critic Gustave Geoffroy: “I am working very hard, struggling with a series of different effects (haystacks), but at this season the sun sets so fast I cannot follow it. . . . The more I continue, the more I see that a great deal of work is necessary in order to succeed in rendering what I seek.”
Monet persuaded the local farmer to leave the stacks for the autumn and relatively mild winter of 1890. He combined work out-of-doors with some in the studio and produced at least thirty paintings of haystacks in different lights.
Poplars Monet painted the series of poplar trees on the banks of the River Epte between the spring and autumn of 1891, the year after he had settled in Giverny. He used a boat as a floating studio and captured the shimmering effects of sunlight on water. The trees were ready to be sold for timber, but Monet, in partnership with a timber merchant, bought the trees at auction so that he could continue painting them.
When painting Rouen Cathedral Monet rented a room across from the cathedral’s western facade in 1892 and 1893, where he kept multiple canvases on the go and moved from one to the next as the light shifted.
I’ve seen several of these pictures in galleries over the years and they are individually beautiful but bringing them together in the image above really helped me to understand what Monet achieved.
Waterlilies: In the 1910s and ’20s, Monet focused almost exclusively for more than 20 years on the waterlily pond he created at Giverny. He attempted to capture every impression and reflection of the flowers and ripple of water. His final series depicts the pond in a set of mural-sized canvases in which abstract lilies and water are painted with broad strokes of color and intricately built-up textures. Shortly after Monet died (as a wealthy and well-respected man of eighty-six) the French government installed his last waterlily series in specially constructed galleries at the Orangerie in Paris, where they remain today. There is a a virtual tour, on the Musee de l’Orangerie’s website www.musee-orangerie.fr/homes/home_id24799_u1l2.htm
Monet’s development of cataracts in later life may have influence his increasingly abstract perceptions of his water lilies.
Sources: Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Galleries Scotland
Musee de l’Orangerie
Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)
The French artist Paul Cézanne is widely considered to be the father of modern art. His life and work have inspired artists for over a century. Some were impressed by his single-minded pursuit of an artistic vision. Others were inspired by his close observation of nature. Clearly not a modest man he was reported to have said: “I point the way; others will come after.”
The many views of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire in Aix-en-Provence painted by Cézanne between 1882 and 1906 are important in the evolution of modern art. The repeated studies from different viewpoints in different light conditions and seasons show a development from a fairly conventional use of line and drawing to a portrayal of the scene using patches of mosaic-like colour. As he progressed, he also simplified the overall composition by removing the foreground trees.
“The same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that I think I could occupy myself for months without changing place, by turning now more to the right, now more to the left.” Paul Cézanne in a letter to his son, 1906
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Notes: Another interesting series of paintings I came across while researching this project was Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760–1849) – Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (wood block prints).
There are obviously many others and I will make a point of looking out for them as there is clearly a lot to learn by observing the development of artists’ work through these repeated studies of the same objects.