Claude Monet is often criticised for being overexposed, too easy, too obvious.
莫奈常因过度曝光 技巧简易 表意明显遭受批评
Or worse a “chocolate box artist”.
His last works, the enormous waterlily canvases
are amongst the most popular artworks in the world.
Yet there is nothing tame traditionalist or cozy about these last paintings.
These are his most radical works of all.
They turn the world upside down with their strange disorientating and immersive vision.
紊乱的画面 沉浸式的体验 完全改变了人们的认知
Monet’s “Water lilies” have come to be viewed as simply
an aesthetic interpretation of the garden that obsessed him.
But they are so much more.
These works were created as a direct response
to the most savage and apocalyptic period of modern history.
They were in fact conceived as
a war memorial to the millions of lives tragically lost in the first world war.
In 1914 at the age of 74,
Monet was a successful and very wealthy artist.
However, his friends were dying off,
and he was still mourning his beloved wife’s death three years earlier,
when his son Jean died.
then his legendary eyesight started to fail.
He should have just retired and enjoyed his old age.
Instead, this was precisely when Monet
decided to undertake a revolutionary new series of paintings,
that would become his career defining work.
Monet’s last works are eight monumental curved panels,
specifically designed for the Orangerie in Paris.
One of the greatest artistic achievements of early 20th century painting,
They cover a staggering 200 square metres of canvas,
which surround and envelop the viewer with wild gestural abstractions.
Monet himself described them perfectly when he said it “gives the illusion of an endless whole.
Of a wave with no horizon and no shore”.
We see them today or rather experience them today
the same way viewers did in 1927,
when they were installed according to Monet’s plans.
Monet worked closely with the architect of the two galleries.
The paintings would be hung across the curved walls of two egg-shaped rooms.
He meticulously planned out the forms, positioning, rhythm,
他精心设计结构 布局 撘配
and even the spaces between the various panels.
They would have filtered daylight coming in from above that floods the space.
The panels with sunrise hues would be positioned to the galleries in the east,
and the sun set scenes to the west.
And so the nature of the pictures would change,
with the weather and the position of the sun.
In that sense, they could be considered the world’s first”art installation”.
And yet thirteen years before these incredible paintings went on display,
但是 13年前 这些惊艳的作品尚未展出之时
Monet had no intention of ever picking up a brush again.
Forty years had passed since the notorious 1874 group exhibition
which introduced the Impressionists.
The great Monet had accomplished everything he wanted to
and decided once and for all, to retire his paint brushes.
He now claimed to find painting “unremitting torture”.
Monet had had enough.
Luckily for us, Georges Clemenceau visited Monet
in his house in Giverny, in late August 1914.
Clemenceau was a newspaper editor and politician
who would soon be made prime minister,
to help lead France to victory in the First World War.
He was an irrepressible force of nature, an art lover
and a close friend of Monet for over 30 years.
They had gone from “enfants terribles” to grand old men
and were two of the most famous men in France.
Clemenceau would flatter and sweet talk the depressed Monet,
coax him out of retirement, and persuade him to paint again.
For Clemenceau, art in general and Monet’s paintings in particular,
对于克里孟梭而言 艺术 尤其是莫奈的画作
were the highest expression of French civilisation,
against the threat of German barbarism.
In that sense, to keep painting was Monet’s “patriotic duty”.
While Monet had been painting his ponds and lilies since 1889,
by 1914 there had been three years of creative inactivity.
Clemenceau’s visit inspired Monet to pick up his brush again,
and he began working intensely on what he called: “The grand decorations”,
a radical new departure.
Through out the war, Clemenceau would nag Monet to paint,
and despite wartime rations,
he would make sure Monet had plenty of art supplies and cigarettes.
And in return, Monet would donate his works to the nation.
Monet was deeply affected by the horrors of war.
His step son was fighting at the front,
and his own son Michel was called up in 1915.
He could hear the sound of gunfire 50 kilometers away
from his house in Giverny, as he painted.
For Monet these works would be his very personal response
to the mass tragedy of the First World War.
Following Armistice Day, Monet contacted Clemenceau,
offering a gift of two panels of large-scale water lilies to the nation.
The canny politician would soon persuade Monet
to extend the gift to eight panels,
by appealing to his ego.
Clemenceau despised the sculptor Auguste Rodin,
who had once done an unflattering sculpture of him.
And Rodin, had just donated his works to France
for the creation of the Rodin museum in Paris.
Clemenceau proposed a dedicated space to Monet
for his “Grand decorations”
Was the rivalry between the two artists,
a reason that Monet was now also seeking artistic immortality
in a dedicated space?
once the radical and subversive young artists who scandalised Paris,
were now the mainstream.
New Avant-garde movements, meant Monet, once the voice of rebellion,
now became the standard to rebel against.
His new works needed to have an impact,
if Monet was to be as relevant in the 20th century
as he was in the 19th century.
He decided to work on a scale he’d never attempted before.
His ambition was phenomenal.
All eight panels would be the same height, but differ in length.
Together they would span a total length of 91 meters or 300 feet.
The first task was to build a new studio,
to accommodate the huge canvases,
with space enough for him to assess his work,
with maximum possible light from top lighting.
It is a myth that Monet painted all his canvases outside,
A myth Monet himself propagated,
when he famously claimed to not even have a studio.
Most of Monet’s paintings were started outside,
For these colossal paintings Monet worked on up to 12 canvases at the same time,
which were placed on easels fitted with caster wheels,
and rotated according to the light he was trying to capture.
It also allowed one canvas to dry as he worked on another.
A single canvas might take 60 sessions of intense work,
and some were given as many as 15 layers of paint.
One visitor noted 75 paint brushes and 40 boxes of pigments.
Monet chose canvases with a pronounced weave
whose “Weft” threads were thicker than the “Warp”.
He then applied a series of undercoats, letting them dry, before applying another.
他在上面涂系列底色 晾干 再涂下一层
He would often scrape off paint to create an uneven surface,
that he would paint over once again, to get a sculptural effect.
He brushed his paints on thickly, so that the canvas weave trapped more of the pigment.
and created what has been described as “A textural vibration”.
He didn’t blend colours over large areas,
but rather did short strokes of colour side by side,
allowing the eye to mix those spots of colour at a distance.
Here we can see the action that produced these daubs and dashes of broken colour.
As we see, sometimes the strokes are fairly short dashes, others are longer vertical strokes.
There is no blending or rubbing, just thrusts of the brush.
The water lilies themselves are simple strokes.
Then he uses pale yellows and greens, a spot of red or a dash of lilac.
他使用淡黄色 淡绿色 一点红色和少量淡紫色
Then vague strokes of blue to suggest shadows.
Our eyes do the rest.
There is a key element missing from Monet’s water lilies: the horizon.
A fundamental element of Western painting
since the Renaissance.
In paintings, particularly landscape paintings,
the horizon orientates the viewer, and defines the space.
Showing the spatial relationships within the composition.
By taking out the horizon,
the water takes up the whole of the canvas, from edge to edge.
We are left with a vast field of unfathomable nothingness,
of light, air and water.
充斥着光线 空气 和水
We have no sense of scale.
Monet somehow positions us
simultaneously floating above the water and looking at it head-on.
As a viewer, your eyes tend to roam the canvas, left and right, up and down.
Looking for a place to settle and anchor,
wondering where the form you are focusing on, quite begins and ends,
and how exactly it is constructed.
This for me,
is why these works succeed so well as a war memorial.
The image that often comes to mind
is the battle ravaged landscape, along the Western front.
Like the paintings, those battlefields had no beginning or end, and no horizons.
就像画一样 战场中没有起始 没有地平线
Time and space was forgotten, as soldiers were enveloped in a sea of mud,
surrounded by waterlogged and surreal landscapes, which covered their field of vision.
There is a sense of mourning in the work,
particularly with the truncated weeping willow trees,
gathering us up in their embrace.
These paintings are as Monet intended,
not only symbolic of the loss of the glorious dead of the great war,
but perhaps all those people Monet had lost too.
In 1912, Monet was diagnosed with cataracts,
which worsened steadily over the years.
For Monet, for whom colour was everything,
this was a tragedy.
Age-related cataracts manifest as a yellowing and darkening of the lens,
and have a major effect on colour perception, as well as visual sharpness.
If we look at this early painting by Monet,
we can see that it is representative of
the colours and details of the actual bridge at Giverny.
But if we take the Japanese bridge and add a filter,
we can get some idea of how Monet might have seen it tonally after the cataracts developed.
Monet could either paint a yellowish world,
or he could compensate and neutralise the yellow,
by adding more blue pigment.
These late paintings show a predominant green blue tone
that is quite different from the subtle colour shading,
that characterises Monet’s earlier Impressionistic work.
On top of this, his cataracts would blur his vision,
which may explain why the application of paint is more abstract,less clear than it once was.
These are of course aesthetic choices,
but we know from Monet’s own words,
that he could no longer see the details or make out colours.
With all these issues,
it may explain his choice of working on such a large scale,
as a way to compensate.
Persuading Monet to make the paintings was easy.
Persuading him to part with them was the difficult bit.
It was up to Clemenceau, to arrange the transfer of the artworks from Giverny.
A thankless task, that tested their friendship
Clemenceau, who had negotiated the treaty of Versailles
drew on all his diplomatic skills, negotiating with the difficult Monet.
The rooms at the Orangerie were completed and ready for installation,
but Monet hadn’t delivered the paintings.
He was constantly “reworking” them, and seemed incapable of finishing.
The “Setting Sun” canvas for example, took him two years.
It has been repainted over and over,
but still Monet left the lower right hand corner unfinished.
Painting was keeping him alive.
In the end, Monet didn’t let them out of his studio till after his death.
最后 直到莫奈去世 他的画才从工作室中搬走
Monet died on the 5th of December 1926, at the age of 86,
1926年12月5日 莫奈逝世 享年86岁
with Georges Clemenceau at his bedside, holding his hand.
The “odd couple” had been friends for over six decades,
and it was, by far, the most profound relationship of both their lives.
The thing they had in common, was their belief in the transcendent power of art.
A few months after Monet’s death,
the public finally saw”The Grand Water Lilies” for the first time.
It was not a particularly glorious moment.
And they were attacked by critics, as the work of “an old man”, and “Devastatingly dull”.
All those colourful smudges and loose brush work seemed insubstantial and ephemeral,
多彩的色块 松散的笔触 似乎虚无缥缈 转瞬即逝
when you compared them to the rigorous forms of the Cubists and Futurists.
Monet, rejected by the critics in the 19th century for being too radical,
was now being criticised in the 20th century, for not being radical enough.
Clemenceau himself died in November 1929,
devastated by the lack of public interest in his dream.
And the works would be largely forgotten about for decades.
However in the 1950s, a new generation of American artists,
然而 20世纪50年代 美国新兴的艺术流派
The Abstract Expressionists rediscovered Monet,
and these last works in particular, were seen as a logical jumping off point for abstraction.
Artists,including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock
were inspired by the last water lilies.
Their epic scale, gripping energy, and emotional impact, thrilled them.
幅面宏大 扣人心弦 激荡情感 让他们激动颤栗
They saw them as, less about water lilies, or the morning sun,
than they are about the “pleasures of paint”, “The act of creation”.
Nowadays the genius of Monet is indisputable,
the Orangerie, a shrine to his talent.
But although Monet, may have painted, what is now called “The Sistine chapel of Impressionism”,
he could never have done it, without the vision of Georges Clemenceau.
Claude Monet is often criticised for being overexposed, too easy, too obvious.