Essay Writing Samples

Sample Art History Research Paper on the Career of Claude Monet

Art history is a field that requires lots of research, analysis and writing. Many students have to write a lot and sometimes require research paper help on many topics. Consider the work of Claude Monet and what he did for the art world. The following sample research paper explains how his career was filled with ups and downs before he truly became successful. The painter underwent numerous trials and criticisms, as the paper shows.

Trial and Error in the Career of Claude Monet

Monet is considered a pioneer of the impressionist movement that emerged during the 19th-century.His aesthetic style and careful brush strokes defied the structure and established guidelines of contemporary art. Without a doubt, however, his work was subject to much scrutiny and criticism from his contemporaries. Indeed, Monet’s style, as depicted in his ca. 1919-1926 painting titled Water Lillies, was not a sudden breakthrough; instead, it was an evolutionary process of constant development (Francis 192 & House 15). However, It is important to investigate to what extent Monet changed his style throughout his career.

It is critical in our understanding of Monet to carefully analyze which aspect of impressionism he kept and which strict guidelines from classical art he neglected using. It is also vital to compare and contrast Monet to other artists of his time, like William Bouguereau (who never used impressionism) and Pierre Renoir, who attempted it with limited success.  While Monet experimented with different styles before painting Water Lillies, the comparison to Bathers by Renoir illustrates that integrating both styles together successfully is a careful process of trial and error.

Classical vs. Impressionist Painting Styles

Firstly, it is important to define ‘classical’ and ‘impressionist’ painting. I will use classical painting to refer to an art work that is realistic. This requires appropriate colors, geometric and structural integrity (with respect to the environment) and attention to small details (Mauclair). The time period I will apply to this is 1880 to 1930 in France. Impressionism involved focused instead on “visual brushstrokes and variations of hue and color” (Millard 637). Some vivid examples of this style are Woman With a Parasol and Haystacks by Claude Monet. Moreover, this research paper will utilize the term Impressionism to refer to specific elements Monet utilized during the period of 1880 to 1930. While Bougureau consistently used classical painting, Monet used certain elements of both styles throughout his career in accordance with his changing style. Both of these styles relied on specific and fundamental elements (i.e. vivid brush strokes or realism); however, Monet did not completely abandon realism. Instead, Monet used some elements of both styles simply because it was not possible to fully use one or the other (click here to read more about themes in painting).

Monet’s Classical Style of Painting

According to Charles Millard in The Later Monet, Monet did not completely and utterly abandon a classical style; instead, he successfully integrated structural principles within an impressionist framework. Commenting on John Rewald’s premise that “When an artist undertakes his work, certain optical conditions present themselves to him by which he is bound. Not everything is possible at all times,” Millard argued that Monet simply sacrificed certain aspects of each style and presented the artwork so that it retained the positive qualities of both (Rewald 192). Firstly, the premise that not everything is possible essentially means that it is impossible to integrate both realism and vivid brush strokes of impressionism into a single piece of art. Since real landscapes are filled with precise details, maintaining that realism would not be feasible. This is the exact challenge that Monet was faced with. Moreover, Monet did not simply pick a style and follow it throughout his career as Bouguereau did with classical art; instead, he found a work around. His experimental styles influenced future painting styles such as Cubism as well.

For example, Water Lillies was problematic for Monet because this landscape required clear structural properties, such as a horizon. In painting a landscape that required clear geometric boundaries like a horizon, it was not feasible to incorporate both a geometric properties and vivid brush strokes as they conflicted with one another. Making a realistic horizon with impressionism was the major problem that Monet faced. In order to alleviate this problem, Monet eliminated the horizon altogether by focusing on the scene within a confined space rather than the whole (Millard 642). Despite discarding this critical aspect of impressionist landscape art, Monet retained structural accuracy within Water Lillies:

By focusing on the surface of the pond, they [water lillies] introduced a gentle recession from bottom to top, as well as exploiting a subject, which like a mirror, was simultaneously flat and profound. Finally, the floating clusters of lilies provided sharp accents across the surface of the picture, holding it together structurally and allowing for brighter hues and accents (Millard 642). Thus, Monet circumvented this issue of structure while still retaining the impressionist brushstrokes and aesthetic style associated with it. Furthermore, by cropping the landscape into a smaller area: “There is no question of space or atmosphere, but only of overlapping, translucent veils of color the strength and beauty of which make the exact location of any represented element, or the spatial relationships of those elements one to the other, irrelevant” (Millard 643). You can also buy a sample art history essay that shows how Monet effectively preserved critical elements of both styles and thus did not simply abandon any specific style directly. Instead, he cherry picked desired elements of the piece and then found ways to alleviate the issue of geometrical integrity and realism through sizing and such.

Bouguereau’s Painting Style Compared to Monet

By contrast, Bouguereau’s artwork and his teachings represented a single unified classical style. A 1905 Art review, Brush and Pencil, remarked that “his work will stand always…as perfectly representing the classists, who, led by Ingres, were pledged to formal subjects in Greek draperies with an eye to conventional line and color” (Brush, 83). The Young Shepherdess, painted in 1895, epitomized this classical style during the same time that Monet was using Impressionism. In the painting, the landscape and plants all take realism very seriously. From the dull brown dirt to the young girl with ratty and wrinkled clothes, every bit of detail is accounted for. It surely represents the “smoothness in color” and “painful [accuracy] in modeling and drawing” that Brush and Pencil argued (Brush, 83).  Indeed, as his model he also used the face and dress of a peasant woman as he usually did (Brush, 83). Ultimately, his style did not change and he did not ride the wave of impressionism that French painters like Monet and his colleagues were using heavily. Therefore, the technical accuracy and elements of realism were consistent throughout his career.

Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s, Monet’s work utilized thick brush strokes, bold colors and experimentation with lighting. His works, like Haystack at Sunset near Giverny (1891) and The Rocks at Belle-ile (1886) illuminate how he did not follow fundamental elements like details and geometrical precision. These pieces embody the “naturalistic and freely curvilinear form” that early impressionists utilized (Seitz, 36). Especially in The Rocks at Belle-ile, the use of strong color and brush strokes is present. This piece shows the sea as water is hitting the rocks. Telling by the sharply contrasting white in the water, Monet was most likely trying to show the strong turbulent waves hitting the rocks. However, there was no shadowing of the waves or drop in color intensity; instead, the rough waves all look relatively the same. Moreover, it looks as though lighting may have been an influence. The water towards the front is much more vivid and dark while it gradients towards a lighter blue as you look in the distance. Similarly, the Haystacks painting also showed evidence of the same brush strokes and color diversity. It is evident that Monet was utilizing different aspects of light to diversify his paintings.

Indeed, the paintings represent a period of time when Monet was heavily focusing on lighting and almost fully neglecting realism. Setiz remarked that by using “an identical quality of light and color,” Monet “was trying to stop time, not hurry it along” (Seitz, 40). By focusing on lighting and colors, Monet was effectively neglecting the classical elements of realism and detail. Within The Rocks at the Belle-ile, there is little attention paid to the overall architectural structure and composition of the rocks and waves. Instead, the waves resemble vivid brush strokes and smudges of color instead of precise details of water hitting the rocks. The specific areas where the waves are hitting the water are merely presented as white to indicate foam. Again, there is very little attention to detail and realism. Within Haystacks, the view of the horizon and landscape is convoluted as a whole. It is difficult to differentiate between the horizon and landscape because the colors are blended together. The front of the haystacks also uses diverse colors and gradients that are somewhat out of place in terms of the actual view he was seeing: lime green, light blue, pink and violet. However, this research paper shows that Monet’s work did change accordingly as his career progressed.

Structure and Geometry in Monet’s Style

By the time he painted Cathedral of Rouen in 1894, we now see evidence of classical elements like structure and geometry. Just by merely transitioning from painting outdoor landscapes to man-made objects, we can infer that he had some interest in applying classical guidelines to work. The Cathedral piece still utilized the firm brush strokes and an overall impressionist style, but using a geometrically precise object like a church as his focal point illuminated the artist’s transition towards a more realistic work of art. The entrance to the palace clearly shows shadowing to correctly portray depth while the top pillars now used straight lines that matched the actual scene. Nonetheless, despite still using impressionist brushstrokes, Clemenceau remarked that he was drawing “which was tightly constructed, clean, mathematically precise…and the geometric conception of the whole.” (Seitz, 42). Therefore, even by 1894 we see Monet experimenting in using both impressionism and classical elements simultaneously. This epitomizes the stylistic changes that he made throughout his career.

By the time he concluded his career with the Water Lillies series, Monet’s style had adapted to accommodate the negative aspects of impressionism in a realistic landscape. Firstly, the criticism he had received from painting a cathedral and the fact that he spent nearly a quarter of a century painting natural landscapes at the end of his career suggests that he had to abandon using architectural structures altogether. In criticizing the cathedral, Lionello Venturi remarked that “he [Monet] failed in an attempt to preserve the form of the build and hence the series is ‘the most evident indication of Monet’s create decadence’” (Setiz, 41). Some even went as far to label it “the reduction ad absurdum of impressionist doctrine” (Setiz, 41). Therefore, his experimentation with architecture and man-made objects had gained some negative feedback because he was trying to implement an impressionist style to artwork that required precise geometrical precision and realism (for the details). Since vivid brush strokes could not fully illustrate the realism of a church with all its details, using the impressionist style for this type of art was not entirely appropriate.

Despite these criticisms, on Water Lillies, Henry Francis remarked that “every view and approach, every element of experiment in which he searched to express the range of composition, came into this framework” (Francis, 195).  This suggests the theme of evolution within Monet’s career and the fact that he spent his early years experimenting with different styles, lighting and landscapes. Indeed, Monet preserved his use of different lighting in painting water lilies. He also retained the vivid brush strokes for only a portion of the painting (the front). However, he no longer attempted to force geometrical objects like buildings into his work. Instead, he resorted back to nature so that he could still use some elements of realism, such as structural integrity because plants do not have a rigid and generalized form. Instead, nature can still look realistic in different forms. Francis remarked in appreciation by noting that “what was considered formless is now comprehended as penetrating expression derived in fullest extent from his observation” (Francis, 198). Relating back to Rewald’s comment that not everything was possible, Monet’s career epitomized the evolutionary process of his artwork by finding what was critically accepted and what wasn’t. Therefore, the transformation process and the final result of water lilies illuminated this process of experimenting with different elements of classical style and impressionism.

Classical Standards Within Impressionist Paintings

There is other evidence of painters utilizing the aesthetic aspects of impressionism while maintaining classical art standards. In The Bathers of 1887 and Renoir’s Anti-Impressionism, Barbara White showed that Pierre-Auguste Renoir also experimented with both styles within the same art piece, specifically Bathers. Within this painting, five nude women are depicted towards the left of the canvas while the right is more of a landscape scene. Indeed, “the Bathers in aesthetically incongruous because it lacks unity of style…the left and right sides of the painting differ in form, composition, color and execution” (White, 107). While the women on the left are detailed and their postures are realistic, the women on the right are less precise. Moreover, the background on the right clearly uses vivid brush strokes. However, despite the success that Monet had in implementing both styles in unity, “this lack of unity and consistency within the painting detracts from the harmony of its theme of nudes bathing” (White, 107). The right foreground of Bathers is extremely similar to Monet’s Cathedral because it tries to integrate both styles. However, while Monet simply applied the impressionist brush strokes to the whole painting, Renoir simply separated the elements within the painting and used different styles where he was it was appropriate.

While Renoir may not have used both styles together successfully as Monet did, this example does illuminate the notion that integrating both styles is a trial and error process. In comparing Renoir’s piece to Monet’s Water Lillies, Monet solved the problem of the horizon by eliminating it while Renoir simply left it with vivid brush strokes. By simply leaving the background with vivid brush strokes, the painting does not look as unified as it could. For instance, White remarked that there is extreme separation from the back of the painting of Bathers from the front: “this separateness is reinforced by differences in execution and hue between the smooth, one-color nude and her Impressionist, multicolored surroundings” (White, 111). Therefore, by leaving out the background horizon and slowly applying more vivid brush strokes towards the back, Monet successfully circumvented this problem. Indeed, applying this style successfully was something that artists like Renoir struggled with and reverted back to classical paintings, like that of Bouguereau.

Monet’s Track Record of Experimenting With Painting Styles

Throughout his career, Monet experimented with different elements of both impressionism and classical art before finally painting Water Lillies. Bathers, by Renoir further supported that it is indeed to challenging to combine them as having both styles work together is extremely difficult because of their limitations. Whereas classical art referred to geometric precision and careful attention to detail impressionism used vivid brush strokes, intense color differences and lack of detail. However, Monet did not completely abandon classical style; instead, he was picky about which elements he chose to keep after trial and error. In taking out the horizon, Monet remained geometric integrity by not having a landscape at all. He instead used a smaller canvas with an emphasis on specific scenes. Paintings like Haystacks and Belle-ile illustrated how Monet experimented with using a horizon and trying to paint details. Even when Monet tried to paint a cathedral, he drew much criticism for his work because he could not successfully paint a man-made object using vivid brush strokes. He simply could not sacrifice the details and geometry of a building. Thus, he focused on landscapes. Even Renoirs attempt to combine the two styles in Bathers was subject to scrutiny because the painting was not unified, the styles clashed one another. Therefore, Monet’s career of trial and error leading up to Water Lillies was an evolutionary process of still maintaining structural and geometric integrity while using vivid brush strokes.

Works Cited

Brush and Pencil. “The Art of Adolph William Bouguereau.” Brush and Pencil 16.3 (1905): 82-87. JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2011 .

Francis, Henry. “Claude Monet Water Lilies.” The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art 47.8 (1960): 192-198. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2011..

Mauclair, Camille. The French Impressionsists: 1860-1900. London: Duckworth & Co, 1903. Gutenberg. Web. 26 Feb 2011. .

Millard, Charles. “The Later Monet.” The Hudson Review 31.4 (1978): 637-643. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2011..

Rewald, John. “The Impressionist Brush.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series 32.3 (1973): 2-56. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2011..

Seitz, William. “Monet and Abstract Painting.” College Art Journal 16.1 (1956): 34-46. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2011..

White, Barbara. “The Bathers of 1887 and Renoir’s Anti-Impressionism.” The Art Bulletin 55.1 (1973): 106-126. JSTOR. Web. 3 May 2011. .

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