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When the Light Hits the Water


De Voorzaan by Claude Monet


Water. In most of our day to day lives, we take it for granted. We might consume it daily, but most people seldom have the opportunity to gaze upon in its natural state. For the French Impressionists, water became an integral part in expressing their new artistic vision. Celebrated artist Claude Monet particularly valued the effects of light on water. Furthermore, he pursued this study of water en plein air, enabling him to capture the elements of a scene at that particular moment in time.


Monet’s experimentation with color developed over the course of his career, many of his earlier canvases having muted palates. In this particular painting, De Voorzaan, Monet depicts a harbor scene from his travels to Holland in 1871. Inspired by the light in Holland, Monet set out to capture the effect of the gray sky on the water. We see his lively and expressive brush strokes, which most represent the weather’s unrest that day in Holland. This canvas is bursting with anticipation of the heavens bursting open into a storm.


Monet’s appreciation for water remained an integral part of his artistic practice throughout his life, yet we get a sense of its origins here. By the time Monet bought his home in Giverny, he had calculated that light changes every seven minutes. He had an exceptional eye and wanted to render the slightest changes exactly. When working on a series, Monet had multiple canvases at work, sometimes ten, at times up to twenty. He gave a few brushstrokes on one, then noticed that the light was changing and accordingly changed the canvas on the easel. It was a slow process: Monet had to wait until the same light effect would come back to complete the canvas. With so many paintings evolving at once, it could take several months or even years before he considered them all to be finished.


It is such a treat to be able to observe this important artist in the formative years of his career. Even in this early work, we see experimentation with light and shadow, and with expressive brushstrokes. As the windmills and sails blow in the ominous breeze, Monet stands his ground, determinedly pursuing his image, and, eventually, a career of outstanding success.



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