Visual Analysis of a Museum Object
The museum piece I chose was Monet’s Customs House at Varengeville. This work is 25 13/16 inches X 36 ½ inches large, which is almost half my size. This painting is not substantially larger than me which means the artist is not trying to make you believe that this is really a house, it is meant to be understood as a painting. The material Monet uses is oil on canvas. He tended to use canvases of very fine weave because he wanted little interference from the grain of the canvas in building his textural effects. He also loaded the surfaces of his canvas with paint so that the texture of the fabric was rarely seen. Monet preferred to use oil paint that had a very low oil content so that his paintings held a lighter feeling and appeared more dream-like. Monet using oil paint affected its appearance by giving it more depth because it is a thicker paint even though he used it more sparingly. This helps give the painting more texture overall and becomes more visually stimulating.
The subject of the painting is a customs house by the English Channel. This work of art would be considered a landscape subject matter and while at the time that is the second most important thing they paint in the Royal French Academy, the first being history paintings, this is not done in their typical style, therefor making it an unusual painting for its time.
The focal point of this painting is the house and it takes up a fair amount of space in the painting. The viewers eyes stray to this part of the painting because the brush strokes become much more busy and colorful. There is a sense of recession in this painting that makes you believe that the house is in front of the English Channel instead of the Channel in front of the house. This is done by making the water a lot less busy and more hazy looking. This forces the viewer to ignore it for a split second and see the house first, exactly what happens when you are looking at something in the real world; you see the object before you see the background behind it. The main focal point of the painting is complete, while the garden is cut off. This gives the viewer a more complete idea of what they are looking at instead of forcing them to try and figure out what the painting consists of or by giving them too much information.
With regards to light, color, and brush stroke, Monet pays a lot of attention to these elements. There is a uniform light that makes it seem like it is radiating out of the painting. This affects the composition by making it seem light and hazy, it gives the viewer a sense of peacefulness that isn’t forced. The viewer can perceive this painting to have been done outside during the early morning because of the light pastel colors and because there is a lack of darker colors there is no negativity present in this painting. Paint was applied in many layers starting out thin and getting more thick as Monet went along and with more varying/vibrant colors in what he wanted you to see as the foreground. The background is given much less detail and layers, less brush strokes are used, and it is painted in much more subdued tones.
This work of art was created in 1897 in Brittany near the English Channel. It is not however, typical of its time period, there is far to much exotic color and frantic brush strokes. During this time in France, where Monet is from, they focus on realistic paintings according to the Royal French Academy. Monet and the Impressionists, instead wanted to focus on how their subject matter made them feel which is exactly the function of this work of art. He wants the viewer to feel the drowsy peacefulness that he was experiencing at the time of this painting. A viewer can tell that this is what he is feeling because of the light colors used and the haziness of the paint quality. Even if it put him at a great discomfort, Monet would do anything to obtain certain perspectives or visual effects in his paintings. During this time period France, his home country, was going through the Franco-Prussian war. However, his paintings do not show an influence of this in his art though a case could be made that he wanted to focus away from this influence on purpose.
Monet was born in Paris in 1840. By 16 Monet was gaining a reputation as a caricaturist and had attracted the attention of Eugène Boudin, a landscape painter. He then introduced him to plein-air painting or landscape painting outdoors and he greatly took to this. From 1859-1860, Monet spent a year in Paris encountering other artists like Constant Troyon, and Camille Pissarro who was a realist. The year after he participated in military service in Algeria that also encouraged in him, ambitions to become a landscape painter. After that year he returned to Paris and studied with Charles Gleyre. This influenced his style of painting by giving him the motivation to study landscape paintings in an impressionistic style, outdoors. 1868 brought about his first patron, Louis-Joachim Gaudibert of Le Havre, who by purchasing Monet’s works, allowed him to get out of the financial troubles he was in at the times. By the time of this painting Monet was in financial success and was able to travel around Europe and create many paintings.
Around the 1860’s Monet begun having vision problems. While at first this temporarily prevented him from painting outdoors, he eventually continued this practice at a smaller scale. The effect of cataracts on his eyes caused the focus of his paintings to become much more hazy, something clearly seen in Customs House at Varengeville.
While this painting is not one of his most famous, Customs House at Varengeville, shows clearly Monet’s views on what he finds important to paint and how you should paint it. He learned early to appreciate the benefits of painting outdoors and found that painting how you felt was more important than painting exactly what you saw.
Cogniat, Raymond. Monet and his world. New York: Viking P, 1966.
Joel Isaacson. Monet, Claude. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 1 May. 2012 <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T059077>.
Lallemand, Henri. Monet: Impressions of light. New York: Smithmark, 1994.
Monet, Claude. Monet unveiled: A new look at Boston’s paintings : [catalogue of the exhibition]
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1977.