The art of the second part of the XIX century is rich with groundbreaking developments and attempts to rethink the very nature of art as a means of self-expression and world depiction. Impressionism was one of such important milestones in the history of the world art. Among the finding fathers of impressionism, Claude Monet stands proudly as the brightest advocate of the richness and freedom of natural colors and shape. The natural landscapes and people found a second, no less realistic life on his canvasses.
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Not too many Monet’s works are displayed in the National Gallery of Art, but one of them, Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, is a notable reflection of impressionist traditions, so I chose it as an object of the present analysis. Among the works from his rich figure-painting legacy, Woman with a Parasol is the one that captures attention from the first glance, being a turning point in the Monet’s formation as a superb impressionist master.
Woman with a Parasol (its second name is The Stroll) is painted in oil on canvass. According to the National Gallery, its actual size is 100 x 81 cm, and 119.4 x 99.7 cm with frame1. The frame is rather thick and at first glance it may seem that the frame attracts even more attention than the painting itself. However, such impression does not last long. The frame has several layers, the inner two being thin ornate lines, and the thick outer layer represented by fanciful flowers. The mild golden color of the frame is attuned to the glowing depicted landscape. The painting brightly stands out on the soft pale-grey background of the National Gallery’s wall.
Woman with a Parasol literally displays a young lady with a boy during their promenade on a warm sunny day. Breaking with the old artistic traditions of precise shapes and elaborate depiction of human features, Monet uses freely scattered vigorous strokes to form an integral image2.
Exceptional pictorial technique and color reproduction create a unique atmosphere of presence and engagement. As Berrong notes, Monet as an impressionist is “focused on capturing the effects of light rather than depicting objects” and his works are “distinguished by an absence of sharp contour or form”3.
Monet masterly plays with color placing the floating woman, in her blossom and nonchalance, on the bright blue background of the sky. The blue paint freely blurs over the white one, so that one color mildly penetrates into the other, creating the sense of clouds rushing across the sky. It became typical for the impressionists not to mix the colors on the palette and get the desired color through overlaying them on the canvas; later this became the reason for the rejection of the black4. The color of the woman’s dress is almost the same as of the clouds, so she seems to be even more light and unbound. Monet manages to reproduce the character of the woman without focusing on every single detail.
The woman’s face is painted vaguely, in the most general forms, however, we still can discern her eyes. She looks at the viewer slightly surprised and carefully studies the one who grabbed her attention. Monet aimed primarily to convey the impression received from the lady, and not to write her accurate portrait5. The same can be said about the boy. He is half-covered with the grass and seems to be obediently waiting for his mother.
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Monet manages to capture a majestic moment: the woman is standing on the hill and looking at the artist from the top down. The breeze hardly stirs the floor of her dress, and a few naughty strands had escaped from her hair-dress. Slightly worn out by the midday sun, she is covered by an umbrella. She seems to be very gentle and fragile. Blue sky and light clouds in the background emphasize the lightness and the ethereal origins of this woman. Monet seems to be extremely in love with this woman. Standing in the light-flooded meadow, the woman is the embodiment of beauty and harmony. Monet is not too much interested in nature, so the only nature we see is the green grass under the lady’s feet. Monet focuses our attention on the woman as if to show that she adorns this unremarkable landscape.
The model depicted is Monet’s first wife, Camilla Donse. They got acquainted in 1865 when Monet was not yet a famous painter. Being very beautiful and intelligent young lady, Camilla was of poor origins and often earned money as a model for such masters as Renoir and Manet. She became Monet’s model and muse but was not accepted by Monet’s family because of her origin. Despite that, Monet married her in 1870. Their first son Jean, who is also there on the painting, was born earlier in 1867. Woman with a Parasol was painted during one of the family walks in Argenteuil village on the right bank of the Seine, where in 1875 the artist lived with his family. They moved there in 1871 and stayed for six years. Argenteuil was an ideal place for an impressionist painter due to its picturesque scenery, tranquility and closeness to Paris. Monet’s period in Argenteuil is considered the most fruitful for his landscape painting6. Camille gave birth to another son, but she had a poor health and soon died of tuberculosis at the age of 32.
However, the story of the woman with parasol was not yet over – 11 years after the initial painting Monet turned back to this topic and created Woman with a Parasol Turned to the Right and Woman with a Parasol Turned to the Left, which were highly appreciated by the critics. Mathews-Gedo argues that “in contrast to many of Monet’s representations of Camille as a passive, pensive, even melancholy personage, The Stroll records her more vivacious aspect, the lively manner Renoir and Manet had captured”7.
Being a canonic example of the impressionism painting, Woman with a Parasol demonstrates the possibility of grabbing a perceived fleeting impression with the help of careless strokes and color play. Looking at Woman with a Parasol, one may feel deep excitement from the beauty of a single while. The painting emits joy and love, speaks of something eternal and inevitable hidden behind the unbelievable blueness of the sky and lightness of the clouds.
One may feel involved in something bright and sublime as if touching a miracle. This miracle is the sincere artist’s soul full of love to the lady with an umbrella. In Woman with a Parasol, Monet managed not only to master his talent and to manifest his unique style but also to convey his warmest feelings. The stylistic and conceptual novelties, brought by this piece of art, opened new opportunities for artists to reflect the souls of their models and thus defined the future trends of the impressionist art.
Berrong, Richard. “Modes of Literary Impressionism”. 2015. Web.
Brodskaya, Nathalia. Impressionism. New York: Parkstone International, 2015. Web.
Kalitina, Nina and Nathalia Brodskaya. Claude Monet. New York: Parkstone International, 2012. Web.
Lewis, Mary. Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology. Berkley: University of California Press, 2007. Web.
Mathews-Gedo, Mary. Monet and His Muse: Camille Monet in the Artist’s Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Web.
The National Gallery of Art. “Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son”. Web.
- The National Gallery of Art, “Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son”2015. Web.
- Mary Lewis, Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007), 231.
- Richard Berrong, “Modes of Literary Impressionism”. 2015. Web.
- Nathalia Brodskaya, Impressionism (New York: Parkstone International, 2015), 63.
- Nina Kalitina and Nathalia Brodskaya, Claude Monet (New York: Parkstone International, 2012), 136-38.
- Nina Kalitina and Nathalia Brodskaya, Claude Monet (New York: Parkstone International, 2012), 165.
- Mary Mathews-Gedo, Monet and His Muse: Camille Monet in the Artist’s Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 161.