Whether from a poster in your doctor’s waiting room, a Christmas gift you once gave your grandmother or your university’s requisite humanities course, Claude Monet is a name that just about everybody knows. An entire style of painting, Impressionism, takes its name from one of his pieces, and he himself was the most style’s most important contributor and devoted acolyte. In his workmanlike endeavors Monet painted numerous versions of the same landscape or scene in order to observe and show the changes of light and (as a result) color upon what he saw. His water lily paintings are some of the most well-known in the world and on a recent trip to my local museum I saw the piece below and finally appreciated something about Monet that I never had before. Of course I realized that Monet was fiercely committed to the practice of painting and had developed his own style but I never truly understood his commitment to “expressing one’s perceptions before nature”.
The piece is entitled The Boat Studio (this one dated 1876 and I find it to be more compelling than the similarly titled painting from two years previous) and it showed me something I was not used to seeing in Monet’s work: the painter himself. Upon first seeing the piece I was immediately drawn to the artist’s figure, hand poised above the canvas, and found myself wondering if I was seeing him from the perspective of those famed aquatic plants or perhaps I was a specter hovering above the water seeing this most intimate of moments, when the artist is overtaken by inspirations while focused on the subject of his work. Upon reflection of the piece I noticed the artist’s gave was not at the viewer, but more in the direction of the small waves left in his boat studio’s wake. Suddenly I was more interested in the perfection of the impressionistic style to render the reflection of not only the artist but the place where artistic creation occurs.
The sky in this painting – and the trees – are typical Monet brushwork and the colors studied and natural, yet the boat studio and the genius inside of it dominate the painting not only in their clarity but in their symbolism: for as much as Monet celebrated nature in his work, it is the human which appreciates nature that is most central to life. However, just like the Monet of the painting who has fashioned the boat studio as a tool to achieve his aims, the audience of the piece must understand that they will not find themselves in a position of inspiration without significant effort. Further, the painting shows tranquility and a sense of cohesion between the painter and his subject, between the man and nature, while at the same time showing the isolation of the creative individual and their process. In his commitment to his artistic sensibilities Monet proves, with The Boat Studio, to be capable of producing true beauty even when he paints a notion of what he must look like as he sits doing what he was born to do. Take a look below at Monet’s 1874 painting The Studio Boat.