In May of 2017, I began a new Frenchquest passion: to learn to paint like the Impressionists. I first became interested in art in 1994 while helping my daughter Lorin compete in UIL Art History. While flipping through the flash cards of the world’s most famous artists and their works, I was immediately drawn to Impressionism, particularly the works of Monet, Cassatt, Renoir and Van Gogh. I was amazed to see how these artists clearly translated the natural world of beauty into the artificial world of painting. Now, twenty-three years later, I have the opportunity to experience this world first hand.
Many have criticized the works of Impressionism to be muddled or blurry. While it is true that if you stand close to the paintings you will just see a menagerie of colors, as you retreat, the images come into focus and clarity. Monet spent many hours looking and painting, painting and looking to capture the exact “impression” as reflected through the different times of day, weather and seasons (Rouen Cathedral, The Haystacks, Poplars, etc.). I love Monet’s light, airy, pastels and landscapes which place the viewer in bucolic fields of posies, windmills, or sailing in the peaceful waters of the Seine in Argenteuil.
My favorite paintings by Monet are from the Normandie landscapes. The first time I saw his Cliffs at Étretat at the Musée d’Orsay in 2005, my soul felt a connection to this idyllic shore and I longed to be there and hear the ocean beating against the rocks. Twelve years later, for our 35th wedding anniversary, my husband David made this difficult trek happen. It was everything I dreamed it would be, and more. Upon my return, I knew this had to be my first painting to record this experience on canvas (next blog post!)
Renoir and Monet painted many landscapes together as well as modern life, en plein air, as in Bal au Moulin de la Galette. Upon my first encounter with Two Sisters on a Balcony (see blog post) by Renoir at the Art Institute of Chicago, I was in awe of Renoir’s palette of lead white, vermillion, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue and crimson red; such brilliant colors, yet so soothing to the eye. In many of his paintings, I love how he captures sunlight coming through the trees and casting shadows on the characters and the ground beneath. The expressions of the young girl’s faces warms my heart as in La Balançoire, (see blog post) and Girl with a Watering Can .(see blog post)
Between the years 1850-1870, the Impressionists began to record the changes of the newly transformed Paris in their paintings of “spontaneous sociability” including Parisian vacations, picnics, promenades, boating trips. (Clark). I wanted to be a part of that world. I wanted to travel back in time to nineteenth century Paris to be a flaneur promenading down the boulevards. I wanted to visit these historic places in Paris which were recorded by Monet and Renoir over one hundred years ago and look very similar today such as: Pont Neuf, Place de Clichy, Gare Saint-Lazare(see blog posts, 6 in series).
Since my introduction to the world of Impressionism in ’94, I have immersed myself to learn about these artists and works by visiting museums, studying art books, watching documentaries, acquiring and framing prints for my home; just about anything a fervent art lover could do except the most obvious- actually painting. Many have asked over the years why I never learned to paint and my typical responses have been lack of time, resources, and knowledge. Honestly, as is typically my style of learning languages or new skills, I want to study in my own unorthodox way, independently, at my pace, reading the things I want to read, etc. and this was not conducive to learning to paint as one would have to normally enroll in art classes at a civic center or continuing education at a local college.
This all changed in May of 2017. God brought Marie, a professional artist, into my life to introduce me to the incredible world of painting. Marie began to teach me to paint through private lessons in her studio, showing me the basic techniques, use of materials and most importantly, allowing me to paint the things that I am passionate about. I am basically a copyist which is how the Impressionists began. They copied works in the Louvre. Wow, oh my goodness. What a joy!
I have been copying the works of my favorites: Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. The cerebral foundation of painting techniques, colors, themes, styles of the Impressionist’s are cemented deep into my mind after years of reading, viewing and studying; now I can apply them directly. It is not as easy, as I am learning, as just sitting down with a brush in hand and constructing a painting. There is: mixing the right colors, considering the right medium (watercolor, pastel, oils), calculating perspective using geometry, drawing, shading, just to name a few. Very technical and challenging, yet very exciting! As an added bonus, Marie has also been teaching my daughter Madison to paint and we have enjoyed many hours painting together.
For my next series of blogs, I will be highlighting my experiences in copying these great works of art. I will begin with my first painting of the Cliffs at Étretat. In addition, will discuss the lessons I am learning about the artists as I try to put myself in their place in front of the canvas. It is very humbling experience as my replications confirm that I am a neophyte. But, I press on!
I hope you will join me on this new adventure and share your “impressions” with me about my attempts at painting in the comments. I also hope this will inspire you to embark on a passion that has in the past intimidated you as the thought of painting has always intimidated me!
My Paintings in this Series:
1) Monet’s Cliffs at Étretat 2) Kandinsky’s Ural Mountains, 3) Van Gogh’s Church at Arles 4) Van Gogh’s Window scene at Arles, 5) Van Gogh’s Starry Night, 6) Van Gogh’s Landscape Snow, 5) Monet’s Sunset at Étretat
*Featured image is Young Girl in a Pinafore by Mary Cassatt.
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)