Monet: as spontaneous as his subject

CLAUDE Monet was all his life passionately in love with nature, especially in its most spontaneous moments. As a young artist he left Paris for the countryside, where he began to paint motifs that gave the name ``Impressionists'' to the whole group. Although today we do not see anything unusual about painting out-of-doors, until late last century artists customarily stayed in a studio when producing serious art.

Monet and his friends insisted that only by working directly from life could an artist seize and retain the impact of first impressions. The charm glimpsed in those fleeting moments had utmost importance for them.

Vigorous and robust, Monet placed an easel in the open even during the most inclement weather and painted quickly, audaciously. A sense of grandeur clings to the works of this artist whose perceptions were so intense and original.

Sometimes other Impressionists joined him, particularly Renoir, Manet, Sisley, and Pissarro. In his 80s he was still painting en plein air but from a large second-floor window of his home.

Monet rejected black and gray from the palette and achieved truer-to-life variations in values and tones by daringly using more or less blue. The lovely contrasts between local colors as well as the bold changes brought about by light and shade were captured in this manner.

Intrigued by such effects, he often depicted the same subject at different hours of the day or periods of the year. He made 30 versions of the Cathedral of Rouen and many delightful ``Nymph-eas'' (waterlilies) grown in his garden at Giverny.

Claude Monet, born in Paris in 1840, moved with his family just a few years later to Le Havre, the port on the River Seine where it empties into the English Channel. A short distance northeast is Etretat, whose cliffs Monet found magnificent and dramatic. Quite frequently he took this site for a subject, finding there a source of wonder and inspiration.

A tempest in February 1883 furnished the spectacular scene ``Restless Sea at Etretat.''

Monet climbed around on the rocks intent on choosing the best angle of view, the most suitable for pictorial presentation.

Using an untraditional approach, he composed wonderfully, rapidly. Fishermen, hands in pockets, stand by their boats not daring to put out to sea; haystacks have wilted under the cold salt spray; wind and water are further corroding the rugged, colorful cliff; heavy skies offer no hope of imminent clearing; rushing, choppy, turbulent waves still run high. Despite all this, there is a sense of normality to the scene.

Overcoming early prejudices against his work, Monet gained acceptance that soon turned into lionization. He painted effortlessly, musically, poetically, and never modified his aesthetics, not being at all in accord with the ``too-finished, contrived, labored over.''

Critics consider Monet ``the glory of France and our time.'' He has given us the visible, palpitating reality of the world just as nature revealed it to him.

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