Realistic and hyperrealistic art have always received more appreciation probably because they seem to require extraordinary skill. Before the mid-nineteenth century, art that was not based on realism would not be considered art at all. From the very beginning of his career, Monet showed an inclination toward newer art techniques. His bold choices were not well received for the better part of his life. However, Monet adhered to his authentic style which soon gave rise to a new art movement, now known as Impressionism. ‘Women in the Garden’ is an early Monet painting that was an important precursor to Impressionism.
Here’s a detailed analysis of Claude Monet’s 1866 painting, ‘Women in the Garden”.
Where is “Women in the Garden” now?
Women in the Garden by Claude Monet is presently in Musée d’Orsay, a museum in France.
Claude Monet’s Techniques
At the age of 26, Monet challenged himself to paint on an 8-feet tall canvas, en Plein Air. En Plein Air means a painting that has been done outdoors, in the open air. Monet was the first artist to paint out of the studio, that too a painting of such large scale.
To paint on a canvas much larger than himself he came up with innovative ways in which the task could be streamlined. He dug up a shallow trench in his garden so that the canvas could be lowered. By doing this Monet painted the top half of the painting outdoors where he carefully studied the lighting. A major portion of the painting was done outside in the garden however, it was completed in the studio.
Monet not only employed several techniques for this painting but also made use of labor-intensive details. For example, he used magazines to study the clothes of the women and also how they would drape in different positions.
The Theme in “Women in the Garden”
The large size of the canvas serves many purposes. First, it gives the viewer an expansive view of the scene. This allows us to experience the scenery through the artist’s eyes. Second, since at the time level of difficulty and skill was appreciated by the critics, Monet took on the challenge of creating a very large painting at such a young age. Moreover, a large painting would easily leave an impression on the mind of the audience which was important for a budding artist like Monet.
The main themes of the painting are nature and the lighting. A signature Monet feature of the painting is how sunlight has been captured through small bright specks on the canvas. The sun rays don’t work naturally rather it is represented through short interrupted strokes. These bright spots in the painting give it a “glimmer” that Monet’s paintings are famous for.
Monet captures the freshness of the atmosphere, the brightness of the sunlight, and the intimate relationship of the women with the surrounding beauty. The scene exudes a sense of calmness as the women “stop and smell the flowers”.
The Subject of the Painting
Interestingly, the same woman posed for all the four women in the painting. The woman was Monet’s usual model Camille Doncieux. At the time Camille was his mistress but later they get married.
Monet therefore probably began working on the figures from the left as suggested by the layering of the dresses. The faces of each of the models are vague and partially obscure so it is difficult to understand if they are all the same person.
The main subjects of the painting however are not the women at all. The interplay of the various elements of nature should be considered the subject in this work. The way the wind and light manipulate the colors and form of the other elements is what stands out.
The Color Palette
Monet has not kept the color palette completely realistic for this piece. He has dramatized the contrast between the bright and the dark portions by giving them completely different undertones. In the shadowy parts of the greenery, the artist does not use a simple dark green to show shadows. He has used warm tones of brown in the grass and trees to depict the shaded portions.
One of the most important colors on the canvas is the bluish-grey seen in the dresses of the women. To depict the part of the dress away from sunlight, Monet used cool-toned grey. Even though there isn’t much meaning to the painting, there is enough dramatization. The flow of the dresses and a glimpse of the women’s actions are enough to create a subjective narrative.
Why was ‘Women in the Garden’ rejected?
In 1867 Claude Monet presented the painting in an annual art exhibition by Académie des Beaux-Arts. It is important to remember that the painting was exhibited at a time when only realistic art was considered worthy.
The greatest downside was the absence of a story or a narrative in the scene. There is no symbolism or inner meaning that would interest the audience beyond the aesthetics. Even the art style was greatly criticized. The brush strokes are short and interrupted and the colors don’t mix seamlessly. To most critics the painting looked like an incomplete draft rather than a final piece.
Despite this rejection and heavy criticism, Monet continued to stay authentic to his art style. As a result of his authenticity, Impressionism was born.
“Monet has skilfully rendered the white of the dresses, anchoring them firmly in the structure of the composition”– Musée d’Orsay
Even though the painting lacks inner meaning and symbolism, it deserves credit based on novelty in technique. Although its aesthetics were criticized, ‘Women in the Garden’ is an important painting that catalyzed the revolution in art toward impressionism.
From the very beginning of his career, Monet never adhered to academic art standards. He was probably not surprised when his painting ‘Women in the Garden’ was not well received. Unperturbed by the criticism, Monet continued his artistic adventures. The risks he took in his work completely revolutionized 19th-century art. As a result of sticking to his style, Monet has become one of the most popular artists of all time.
Frequently Asked Questions – “Women in the Garden”
Why is Monet’s Women in the Garden famous?
‘Women in the Garden’ is one of the first impressionistic paintings that was created before impressionism was discovered. It was also one of the first paintings to be painted en Plein Air, that is, outdoors. The painting has distinct qualities of Monet’s art style which make it popular among art collectors.
What is impressionism art?
In impressionism, the goal is to capture the moment as it is seen by the eyes on canvas. Impressionism is more related to freestyle painting since it disregards the structural and methodical aspects of painting. Impressionists painted frivolous, unimportant objects rather than accurate portraits of historical figures or holy scenery. Things like people eating lunch or going about their regular routines are unimportant daily activities. Instead of focusing on a certain subject, the artist chooses to examine the scene as a whole at that particular time. That was done with the intention of preserving the artist’s memory of that first, transient experience and capturing it on canvas. The key concern was how light interacted with objects and altered how things appeared. En Plein air, which in French means “outside,” is the term used to describe the method of creating these paintings.
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