The Beauty of Claude Monet

UPDATE: 1/27 at 9:30 PM. I added the promised Tutor Notes for Monet. They are at the bottom.

I’m Prejudiced. There. I said it.

I LOVE Claude Monet’s work.

I have this utterly crystallized memory of the first time I saw a Monet in person. I was in New York City just four months after 9/11. We were scheduled to tour the Museum of Modern Art…which, as it turned out, was closed an undergoing a major re-build. The one painting my professor desperately wanted to show us (Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) was out on tour, and the vast collections of the MoMA was reduced to a handful of rooms with a few Impressionists, Picassos and VanGoghs. You could see it in less than 20 minutes, if you wanted.

I turned the corner into a far room and was surrounded by Monet. There is no other word to describe it. The MoMA has ( I presume they still have it) a three-panel triptych of the famous waterlilies theme. Each canvas was taller than I am, and each wider than they are tall. Together, they formed a semi-circular wall.

I am fairly certain this is the correct triptych, but it really doesn’t do any justice to the work. Sorry. Just think, this work is six feet tall from top to bottom of the canvas…

So I was immersed in a beautiful waterlily moment. I just stood there and stared at these swirls of color, so abstract when you really stared at them, yet so utterly understandable as waterlilies bobbing in a small pool, reflecting the swirling clouds above and the shimmering reflections of trees. I cannot describe the way I felt over-awed and yet so utterly peaceful at the same time. I spent more than half our time just in that room, letting the others in my group walk around me, just studying this work.

And I’ve been a fan ever since.

Monet’s Rocks at Pont Goulphar, 1886 in the Chicago Institute. When I first caught sight of this canvas (it’s small, only about 2 feet by 3 feet, or thereabouts…) I could have sworn those waves were MOVING.

In September, I had an opportunity to take my kids to the Chicago Institute of Art, and eagerly sought out the Impressionists room. My kids were obsessed with the George Surat pointalism painting, but I kept looking at the Monets that flanked that huge canvas. His paintings almost seem to MOVE out of the corner of your eye, yet, when you look closely, you have trouble seeing how those flecks of paint turn into the sparking seawater, or swirls of mist. Yet, back away, look again, and they can seem more real than a photograph.

A photo of the above which I took, trying to understand exactly how Monet layered the colors to get those flickering waves in the above piece. It doesn’t help, but it is fascinating to look!

As a person, Monet has been difficult to understand, and I cannot say that I do–or anyone really. Even writing the biography for this is difficult, and I had to cut out so much I wish I could have shared. Monet’s work also needs to be seen to really understand it. He has his small paintings, and then he has the immense ones–the largest being the Waterlily rooms at the l’Orangerie in Paris.

I hope this packet gives you a lot of things to share with your classes. and perhaps even a seed of appreciation for Monet’s work. There was some wonderful connections with Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France, which I included, as well as connections with Hokusai, the Japanese printmaker and painter (which I could only allude to).

Monet lived a truly interesting life and I hope you enjoy learning about him at least as much as I did!

C2W16 Claude Monet

C2W16 Monet Tutor Notes