A review last week from fellow #Art critic Jonathan Jones of the Guardian ran under a startling headline: “Ignore the snobs – Monet is a contender for the greatest artist ever.” (Memo: he’s that Impressionist who painted 25 versions of the same haystack, paying more attention to that pile of animal fodder than to people in, say, “Women in the Garden,” who he endowed with only a fleeting air). And even while conceding the artist’s “soppy, chocolate box” picture-making, Jones hailed him as a better artist than Rembrandt or Michelangelo..
In your dreams
OK, I’m no fan of Impressionism; though I rush to acknowledge that most people are fans. Museumgoers stand in long lines to see pictures painted in this style. But how can a style meant to capture fleeting things like the sun’s shimmering effect on water and other weather conditions constitute great art? Jones’ object of affection is the pastel “Etretat, L’Aiguille et La Porte d’Aval,” c.1885 - newly gifted to the National Galleries of Scotland. He says this image of the Normandy coast makes the case for why Monet’s art is “unequalled.” As he sees it, the picture’s dying light transforms the rock shapes bulging up from the sea into “dream shapes” comparable to the music of Richard Wagner. One wonders how many people equate squishy scenery with rhapsodic music.
Let’s do lunch
Look, if you’re going to swoon over an Impressionist painter, let it be Renoir if only because he succeeded in doing more with his squishiness.
Consider his “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” a seamless blended of a wide variety of people, poses and facial expressions together with the bottles and glassware and fruit on their tables. That’s a lot of different shapes and colors to meld, yet he gave all the picture parts a one-ness by painting them with sunlight filtered through foliage that breaks the color and shade evenly. So what you get is a visual art of man and nature as one. A pretty good message for a party scene.
Sniffing with your eyes
Jones says Monet is so great that he makes the art of Turner or Whistler “seem slightly false” thanks to the mystery in his work.” Mystery in haystacks? However gauzy, they’re still haystacks! Now, let’s talk Turner for a moment and compare his “Keelmen Heaving Coal by Moonlight” to the haystacks. Both subjects are equally ordinary. Yet, even a cursory glance tells you that when Turner captures the mist of the sea, the smoldering of the coal, and the light of the moon, he gives form to formlessness. And he does this so vividly that you imagine catching whiff of the sea and the smoke.
Anyone sniff any haystack aromas?
In a biography of Monet by Marthe De Felsm he’s asked how he became an Impressionist and he said that he didn’t become one, that he’d always been one. Nothing to brag about, if you ask me. But I’ll give Monet the last word: “I despise the opinion of the press and the so-called critics.” #Android