“ Hardcover: 64 pages / Publisher: Dorling Kindersley / Published: Aug 1999 „
I have always been interested in the works of the Impressionist painters, so this book about Claude Monet caught my eye when I was browsing in my local library. I am a huge fan of the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series of books as I feel that they provide an excellent balance between text and illustrations.
Each chapter sets out its information in a 2-page spread of pictures and short paragraphs of text. I love the layout of information in this way as it means there is always something that will catch my eye and inspire me to read on. They are ideal books for browsing because you don't have to read the information in chronological order but just be led by the things that draw your interest. In my opinion, this makes these books a relaxing way to learn.
As with other Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides, I would describe this as being like a museum in a book. The photographs are so clear that you feel that you could almost pick up the objects from the pages - a palette, a painting umbrella, a sketchbook, etc. - and examine them more closely. One of my favourite photographs is a replica of Monet's floating studio - the boat he used to paint from. I can really imagine him mooring this studio on the Seine and setting to work in his constant quest to capture the changing effects of light on water.
The book contains many reproductions of Monet's most famous paintings. Art historian, Jude Welton, offers a fascinating analysis of Monet's work and I love the way he zooms in on particular features of the paintings to point out aspects of technique and colour combinations. It feels a bit like being in an art gallery, having your own personal guided tour of Monet's paintings.
There are lots of photographs of Monet and his family and of the places to be found in his paintings. You can also see examples of his works at different stages of development. It is fascinating to peep at old sketchbooks and canvases and gain an insight into Monet's methods. This also helps you to appreciate what a perfectionist he was.
This book offers an intriguing glimpse into Monet's life. We discover why his work was so innovative and consider its impact on the 19th century art world. I felt that the book helped me to gain an understanding of Monet's character and about the things that inspired him. We learn that he was born in Paris in 1840 and showed a natural talent for art from an early age. It is interesting to see examples of the caricatures Monet drew and made a good living from as a teenager in Le Havre. His mentor, Eugene Boudin introduced him to the joys of open air painting. Monet's enthusiasm for this was summed up in his own words - "Suddenly a veil was torn away. My destiny as a painter opened up to me."
Having recently spent time in Normandy, I was keen to read about Monet's links with the Normandy coast and particularly enjoyed looking at the reproductions of his paintings of figures on the beach at Trouville. The unfinished, sketchy nature of the paintings were criticised at the time, but that was the whole point of them, to create an 'impression' of a scene or a snapshot. Jude Welton draws our attention to the broad brushstrokes used to paint the figures in the foreground and shows how Monet used the technique of applying one colour of paint next to another colour that was still wet. He even points out where sand has blown onto the canvas and mixed in with the wet paint, adding to the sense of immediacy and capturing the atmosphere of the seaside moment.
One of my favourite Monet paintings is Woman with a Parasol. I love its windswept, shimmering qualities and I found Jude Walton's observations on this painting particularly insightful. The grass looks stunning due to the contrast between yellow and pink strokes to depict sunlight and darker reds, greens and purples to represent shadow. "Comma-like flicks of colour" is the way Jude Welton describes it and I understand exactly what he means when I view the detail up close. I find Welton's enthusiasm quite infectious and he alerts me to aspects of the paintings that I would not have been aware of otherwise. I don't find his commentary pretentious or stuffy, which can sometimes be the case where art criticism is concerned. His observations are always relevant and enhance my appreciation of the paintings.
This book explains how Monet's famous gardens at Giverny were created, the subject of over 500 paintings. I had no idea just how many water lily paintings Monet produced and this book certainly helped me to appreciate the variety he was able to bring to the subject - sometimes creating a gentle mood, but at other times something more dramatic and sombre. Some of these pictures do look extremely blurry, however, and it is questionable how much this was intentional and how much it was due to Monet's deteriorating eyesight.
Monet suffered from cataracts which caused him to have cloudy vision in later life and problems in distinguishing between colours. The book explores how Monet's failing eyesight may have affected his work. There are references to him meticulously setting the paints out on his palette in a strict order and being reliant on the paint labels to tell him what colours he was using. A reproduction of The Japanese Bridge, painted at a time when Monet's eyesight was going downhill, reveals a very unusual choice of colours.
The artist's feelings of frustration at this time must have been intense and I found this section of the book quite moving. Not only did Monet have to face the loss of his eyesight, he faced other losses in his final years, namely the death of his wife and son. Yet in spite of it all he kept working on ambitious projects.
In my experience, even young children are often attracted by impressionist paintings, so this is a nice book to look at with a child. Children enjoy looking at the arrangements of colour and find it fun to experiment with paintings of their own, using dabs of paint in different colours, as Monet did. I think this book would have been useful a few years ago when my youngest daughter did a project about Monet at junior school.
This book is a great family resource, because it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It's a book that I find helps me to relax as I enjoy just turning the pages and taking in the dreamy, atmospheric paintings.
A hardcover version of this book is available from Amazon from £4.00. I have no hesitation in recommending it. It avoids being too 'heavy' in style but is sufficiently detailed to teach you a lot.