Claude Monet – Dare to Give Up Black [1840 – 1926; Impressionism]

Monnet is the Impressionist par excellence. He actually was the reason why the movement had the name after all: he exhibited his painting ‘An Impression, Sunrise’ (above – painted in Le Havre in 1872) in 1874. A part of its title was used derisively by a critic to label the whole movement ‘Impressionism’. This exhibition is now known as the First Impressionist Exhibition. It is interesting as the name of “impressionism” was actually born by accident. Monet didn’t have a name for the above mentioned painting, when rushed by his brother, Edouard to come up with a name for the exhibition, he just chose in a hurry “Impression”. Edouard added the “sunrise” part, thus creating a label that made it across times.

He painted outdoors, educated by his mentor Boudin. Monet’s devotion to painting out of doors is illustrated by the famous story concerning one of his most ambitious early works, Women in the Garden (Musée d’Orsay, Paris; 1866-67). The picture is about 2.5 meters high and to enable him to paint all of it outside he had a trench dug in the garden so that the canvas could be raised or lowered by pulleys to the height he required. Courbet visited him when he was working on it and said Monet would not paint even the leaves in the background unless the lighting conditions were exactly right (

Color, bright color, beautiful, bold color, this is the main trait of Monet. He is famous for the bridges and the water lilies, and what I personally find fascinating is that the Impressionists do not use black. Try to find black in Monet’s painting, yet the dark tones are dark. At the same time they were the first painters who dared to use pure white in the paintings. Until them, that would have been considered one of the big mistakes of painting.

The Impressionists (the most famous being Renoir, Cezanne, Degas) still make waves in the art world. Maybe it is because the Impressionism era was brief and the paintings are rare, maybe because they were scandalous though the colors and subjects they chose, maybe because they dared to use pure white, without any fear and gave up black completely, choosing to actually use combinations of colors instead.

No matter the reasons, an exhibition of Impressionists will never be dull or lack of visitors. Their paintings are bright and bold, again fighting with the times he lived in and with mentalities and limits.

“By his fellow painters Monet was regarded as a leader, not because he was the most intellectual or theoretically minded or because he was able to answer questions that they could not answer, but because in his art he seemed to be more alert to the possibilities latent in their common ideas, which he then developed in his work in a more radical way than did the others. Considering how all these painters developed their intensely personal manners with respect to the new artistic ideas, we may observe that the new elements appeared most often for the first time in the work of Monet and then were taken over by the other Impressionists, who incorporated them as suggestions or as definite means and applied them in their own ways.” (

“There is still another reason for Monet’s outstanding position as an Impressionist. If we compare his paintings over a short period with the paintings of the others, we see that while the others painted within a restricted range of ideas and even of feelings, so that the Renoirs of the period 1873-76 are characterized by the joyousness in a collective world of recreation described earlier, Monet, with his powerful, ever alert eye, was able to paint at the same time brilliant pictures and also rather grayed ones in neutral tones. He was more reactive, he had more of that quality that psychologists of that time called “Impressionability.” That is to say, he was open to more varied stimuli from the common world that for these painters was the evident source of the subjects of their paintings. (

Impresionissm techniques and specific traits

The concept of the impression was of central importance to a good deal of Impressionist practice. An impression was generally accepted at this time to be either the initial impression a scene made on the mind, or a kind of rough sketch, often made on the spot, which related to this. An impression was not thought to be suitably detailed or finished enough to be exhibited. (

The Impressionists were excited by contemporary developments in colour theory which helped their search for a more exact analysis of the effects of colour and light in nature. They abandoned the conventional idea that the shadow of an object was made up from its colour with some brown or black added. Instead, they enriched their colours with the idea that the shadow of an object is broken up with dashes of its complementary colour. For example, in an Impressionist painting the shadow on an orange may have some strokes of blue painted into it to increase its vitality.

The Impressionists sought to capture the atmosphere of a particular time of day or the effects of different weather conditions on the landscape. In order to capture these fleeting effects they had to work quickly. They applied their paint in small brightly coloured strokes which meant sacrificing much of the outline and detail of their subject. Their painting technique put them at odds with the conservative Académie of the French artistic establishment who valued subtle colour and precise detail which was carefully crafted with great skill in the artist’s studio. What the Académie failed to appreciate was the freshness of Impressionist colour and the energy of their brushwork which revealed a spontaneity that had only previously been valued in the sketches of the old masters. However, the public grew to love the vitality of the Impressionist technique and in time Impressionism grew to become the most popular movement in the history of art.(

Other Impressionists (

Paul Cezanne; Frederic Bazile; Edgar Degas; Edouard Manet; Mary  Cassatt; Berthe Morisot; Camille Pissaro; Pierre-Auguste Renoir; Alfred Sisley.

Works: you can find some of his paintings on this site, as well as on the artchive site.


2 responses to “Claude Monet – Dare to Give Up Black [1840 – 1926; Impressionism]

  1. Pingback: Modern Art … « The Art of Collecting Art·

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