Exploring the technique of the quintessential Impressionist
Monet: Nature Into Art, by John House. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. 254 pp. $39.95. Claude Monet is the quintessential Impressionist painter. His paintings most thoroughly depict the attention that group of painters gave to atmosphere and light. He was also a leader among them, being, for instance, the first to do a series of paintings depicting the same subject under different light conditions, as in his ``Grain Stacks'' and ``Poplar'' series.
Because of his importance in the Impressionist movement, probably the most popular of modern art movements, many books have been written about Monet and his art. John House, a leading British authority on Impressionism, has chosen, therefore, to concentrate on Monet's painting technique. After a brief biographical chapter, Mr. House dedicates the remainder of his book to such topics as choice of subject, composition, buildup of the paint surface, brush work, color, and pentimento
One of the joys of this book is the profuse number of illustrations of Mr. House's theses with reproductions of Monet's paintings. Many of them are not commonly seen, thereby expanding the reader's knowledge of Monet's repertoire and its broad range.
One of the more interesting points covered by Mr. House is Monet's gradual shift from the depiction of modern life to the timeless depiction of nature in its pure state, culminating in the wonderful mural-sized paintings of his lily pond at Giverny. Also discussed is Monet's approach to the ebauche, or first lay-in of paint, which leads naturally to Monet's constant battle with the state of finish in his paintings. From era to era art has shifted from highly finished paint surfaces, as in the paintings of the Flemish masters or Ingres, to rougher surfaces where the work of the brush or palette knife is seen by the viewer. Today's Neo-Expressionists use this vigorous action to add to their visual subject matter. Monet and his fellow Impressionists were among the first to intentionally exploit free brushwork to create mood.
Most interesting is House's discussion of Monet's use of color to create the atmospheric enveloppe which became his preoccupation from the ``Grain Stack'' series onward. ``Monet's interest in overall colour harmonies became paramount, and his colour gained increasing autonomy.'' Monet used his color to increasingly depict the shift, mood, and color of the light bathing his subject. This attempt to paint light, itself, is a study, started by the Impressionists, still to be explored by others.
John House, who was the curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' much lauded Renoir exhibit, obviously has a deep knowledge of, and great love for, his subject. These attitudes enhance the pleasure for any reader of his book.