Featuring 5 of Leigh’s New Canvases
“My Year of Monet” (MYOM) has ended, but what a year! It not only opened my eyes to his life and works, but also helped me to see my own artistic pursuits in a new light. As I learned about his techniques and applied some of them, I took greater risks toward achieving my goals of confidently working looser and faster. By devoting more time and energy than ever before, I produced more paintings in 2019 than in any pervious year—most of which were given away last November. All-in-all I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
In December, I rewarded myself with a trip to Denver for the exhibition, “Monet: The Truth of Nature,” the largest show of his artwork in the United States in over two decades. In this article, I’ll offer my review of the exhibit and share my newest paintings, inspired by the exhibit and Les Grande Décorations. I’ll also tell you about my big upcoming project and provide a list of resources I used during MYOM.
I Hope I Wasn’t Too Annoying
I went to the Denver Art Museum (DAM) with my wonderful friends Rory & Louisa Donaldson, who hosted me for a week. The show represented a summary of Monet’s canon with 120 paintings divided into 14 thematic galleries, including pieces from nearly every stage of his amazing oeuvre of 2,500 pictures. The vast majority of pieces on display were familiar to me from other museum visits and my intensive study. Frankly, I was really excited and could not stop talking!
Had I not prepared beforehand, I wouldn’t have realized that some of the pictures were quite rare. View from Rouelles is regarded as his first painting (#1 in Monet’s catalogue raisonné by Wildenstein), and two pastels were in the show, including The Seine Estuary—he did very few pastels. However, there was no signage other than titles, dates, and ownership to indicate that these early pieces were extraordinary. Perhaps I’ve become too much of a snob, but I do have complaints such as this in my review.
With Rory and Louisa, I was unable to contain myself. We’d look at various paintings, and I pointed out certain Monet techniques and backstories. “The women in that rowboat were his stepdaughters, Suzanne and Blanche.…” or, “Once when he painted along the Normandy Coast, he got swept away by a rogue wave, along with his brushes, paints, canvas, and easel. When he finally recovered, his beard was matted with yellow and blue paint.”
My friends said they liked hearing my insights, but I felt kind of obnoxious—especially after they went home and I stayed for a couple more hours, sharing my newfound expertise with a few DAM staffers and strangers! Again, everyone was gracious—in fact, two room guards sought me out later in the day to ask my feelings about the show—but, believe me, I’ve never behaved that way before at a museum! I just wanted so badly to share what I’d learned during MYOM. Despite being annoyed with myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. It gave me the opportunity to survey each period of Monet’s long career, and my favorites were from Argenteuil (1872-75), Vétheuil (1878-81), Bordighera (1884), and Venice (1908).
I was disappointed about omissions. There were no pictures of the Rouen Cathedral and only one or two from important series, like Haystacks or London. His hundreds of studies for the Grande Decorations were barely represented, which left his late years fairly neglected. Fortunately for me, those were covered in the San Francisco show earlier in 2019. Logisticaly, the smallish galleries led to gridlock, many people obliviously blocked views and hindered flow while listening to audio tour devises, and a group of young mothers with infants in strollers seemed ambivalent. On the other hand, the DAM staff was extremely helpful and friendly; and, in all fairness to my fellow attendees, this was a tremendous event that had all of Denver buzzing.
Early last January over breakfast, my wife Lindsey showed me a brief notice in the Los Angeles Times announcing that Monet exhibits were coming to San Francisco and Denver in 2019. Without pause, I proclaimed that “this will be My Year of Monet.” So, the December show was both the impetus and the grand finale.
Attracted to Snow
One of my goals in Denver was to take photographs of snowy scenes to paint when I returned to Southern California. Coincidentally, Lindsey had recently given me the book, Impressionists in Winter (Moffett), so I was especially interested in how snow is painted. I paid close attention to Monet’s wintery pictures at the exhibit, such as Coming into Giverny in Winter, noticing his use of pink and blue hues.
On the way home from DAM, I stopped at Central Park to take photos, leading to two scenes from there, plus one of Rory at another park. I relied heavily on blue, grey, and pink snow:
Les Grande Décorations
As I explained in my blog after attending “Monet: The Late Years,” Monet spent the final dozen years of his life preparing etudes and painting Les Grande Décorations—extremely large, multi-paneled murals. Each of the roughly 250 water lilies painted between 1914-1926 were studies for the eight panels he donated to France and are displayed in Mueée de l’Orangerie in Paris. The panels, consisting of 22 enormous canvases, are arranged in two oval rooms. They stand six and a half feet tall and the longest is about 42 feet long—the total length of all eight compositions is nearly 300 feet.
Monet’s best friend, Georges Clemenceau—the former prime minister—brokered the donation and negotiated with the temperamental artist, who ultimately refused to release the gift until after his death. Perhaps overworking them to their detriment, he continuously applied new brushstrokes for over ten years—through bouts of blindness—telling Clemenceau that painting them kept him alive. Eventually, the master put down his brushes, dying of lung cancer a couple of months later on December 5, 1926 at the age of eighty-six. Two weeks later, the massive murals were taken to l’Orangerie.
To finish off MYOM, I painted an eight-foot wide diptych that expanded on five compositions of Morro Rock I painted in October. [These and all of MYOM paintings are here.] This was my small homage to Les Grande Décorations.
Unlike Monet, I was determined to finish the diptych in short order (two and a half months) and made a concerted effort to complete the canvases with many patches of orange undercoat still showing. That was a technique he used in many of his water lilies studies, although his undercoat was a dull lead white.
On the final day of 2019 (aka, MYOM), I spent six hours putting the finishing touches on my diptych. Determined to finish it before the year ended, I moved back and forth along the large composition, quickly applying dashes and smudges of shapeless forms and uniquely mixed colors. While I added these final brushstrokes, my thoughts drifted to Monet. Grateful for the artistic inspiration he provided and equally glad not to have lived his life—I painted. That’s all I truly cared about in the moment, creating art.
Upcoming after “My Year of Monet”
MYOM may be over, but Monet’s influence will last for always. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am now 68 years old and am more productive than ever. I completed 34 pictures during MYOM, my most in one year, but it pales compared to him. At that age, in 1908, Monet finished 36 Venice paintings and 19 others. He had an incredible work ethic, essentially painting every day from dawn to dusk, except for lavish meals that broke up his sessions. For me, six hours is about my limit.
Readers of my blog on Monet’s “Wives and Families” will remember, his second wife, Alice. They spent two and a half months in Venice, their last trip together and the final time he left Giverny on a painting expedition. She soon took ill and eventually died in 1911. Throughout this period and in the years that followed, he was too distressed to work.
The DAM show included a few of his quintessential paintings from Venice, such as the one pictured below. I got a good look at the loose, varied patterns in the building and horizontal strokes in the water. While in the gallery, I had an idea…
I remembered taking pictures on a Venice vacation Lindsey and I took in 2003. When I got home from Denver, I searched for them and saw the same kinds of scenes Monet had seen. However, even as many of these buildings are still standing, due to global warming, they are in a far more precarious state in 2020 than they were 112 years ago. Chances are high that a century from now, the “City on Water” will no longer exist.
So, I’m going to see what kinds of pictures of Venice I can create at the same age as Monet when he painted his. Stay tuned…
Reading & Resource List
The following books, articles, and lectures were tremendously informative during “My Year of Monet” studies. I’ve placed an asterisk (*) before the titles I most highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about Claude Monet.
Books & Articles:
Anderson, Janice, (2002) Monet, Barnes & Noble Books, New York.
Barry, Claire M., (2019) “‘Color is My Day-Long Obsession’ Monet’s Late Painting Materials and Techniques, 1914-1926” in Monet: The Late Years, edited by George T. M. Shackelford, Yale University Press.
Bourguignon, Katherine M., (2007) Impressionist Giverny: A Colony of Artists, 1885-1915, University of Chicago Press.
Cauvin, Emma, (2019) “The Late Monet and his Critics: Water Lilies, ‘Cunning Mirrors on Paradise,’” in Monet: The Late Years, edited by George T. M. Shackelford, Yale University Press.
Clemenceau, Georges, (1930 translation) Claude Monet; The Water Lilies, Doubleday, Garden City, NY.
Denver Art Museum, (2019) Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature, Prestel Publishing, Munich.
Dredge, Paula, Wurhrer, Richard, and Phillips, Mathew (2003) “Monet’s Painting Under the Microscope,” Microscopy and Microanalysis, 9, 134-143.
Gordon, Robert & Forge, Andrew. (1983) Monet. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.
* King, Ross, (2016) Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, Bloomsbury, New York.
Mathieu, Marianne, (2019) “The Grandes Décorations: from Claude to Michel Monet 1914-1966,” in Monet: The Late Years, edited by George T. M. Shackelford, Yale University Press.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, (1978) Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, New York.
Moffett, Charles, et. al, (1998) Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige, Philip Wilson Publishers, Washington, DC.
Perry, Lilla Cabot, (1927) “Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909,” The American Magazine of Art, Vol. 18, No. 3, March.
* Roe, Sue, (2006) The Private Lives of the Impressionists, HarperCollins, New York.
Roy, Ashok, (2007) “Monet’s Palette in the Twentieth Century: Water-Lilies and Irises,” National Gallery Technical Bulletin, London, Volume 28.
Shackelford, George T. M. (2019) Monet: The Late Years, Yale University Press, New Haven.
Stuckey, Charles, (1988) Monet: Water Lilies, Park Lane, New York.
* Tucker, Paul Hayes, (1995) Claude Monet: Life and Art, Yale University Press, New Haven.
Wildenstein, Daniel, (2008) “Monet’s Giverny” in Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
* Wildenstein, Daniel, (1996) Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism (Volume I) and Monet: Catalogue Raisonné – Werkverzeichnis (Volumes II-IV), Taschen edition.
Videos & Lectures:
Ian Aaronson, “How Artists See,” University of Cape Town, March 8, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbdgaZMd_74
* Henry Goodman, narration, Exhibition on Screen: I, Claude Monet, Seventh Art Productions, Brighton, UK, ©2017.
Ross King, “Claude Monet’s Secret Garden,” Heller Lecture, Vancouver Art Gallery, June 26, 2017. https://vimeo.com/228302001
Paul Hayes Tucker and Sebastian Smee, “Learning To Look,” WGBH Forum, May 1, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBuF3CFda8g
Paul Hayes Tucker, “Monet’s Garden,” New York Botanical Garden, June 4, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsSod0So5ss&list=PLgCCfOcx7g13KUQslE1mHQAQQoIHwrPue
* Also, various short videos from the Denver Art Museum about Monet. https://denverartmuseum.org/related/related-articles/18897/3252/25