Art Essay – Part Two – Impressionists and after

Here is the long promised second part of my essay.

Famous for his paintings of water lilies, Monet was an impressionist painter born on 14 November 1840, who said once “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” and he too made nature into a pattern, and explored the theme of the contrast between, and (though this is in some ways a contradiction) the similarity between, nature and art.

Impressionists were interested in painting things the way they appear, rather than how they ‘really are’. They use green and red and every colour for shading, as well as just brown and black – they think that there is no ‘real colour’ – it all depends on the lighting. A tree is not green to them – it might be white, if the sun shined brightly off the leaves – it might be red, if painted at sunset. It would be depicted in dull shades if the day were dark, or in bright shades if the day were light. The picture used for featured image is an example of this.‘Water is not pink!’ you might say. ‘It is not purple or yellow!’ Yet, the picture captures so well how the colours and reflections blur on the surface of the water. Colours also contribute not a little to the atmosphere of the painting – compare the picture below to the colourful featured image just mentioned – one mellow and soothing, the other a riot of colour.

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But even the brightly coloured paintings of waterlilies seem to suggest a slightly pensive mood, though not so much as the mellow coloured ones  – or so I think. But to continue with the original theme, notice how evenly the chrysanthemums below are spaced – also, they are not shown growing upon stems in a bed – they are painted from above, and no leaves or stem show, only a greenish, bluish background – they seem almost to be floating in the air. In one of the other paintings shown – one with a bed of blue and pink flowers with a path running through them – traces of a pattern can also be found. The leaves hanging down look like lines, and the two trunks of the trees and placed fairly evenly. Also, it is a garden, and gardens are art, if we think about it, for they have been arranged to look pretty by humans. Gardens can have patterns, too – a knot-garden, for instance, is geometrical.

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And the last painting – Coquelicots, La promenade – notice the neat row of trees along the horizon.  Aside from illustrating the theory which introduced this picture into the essay – is not it a lovely painting? Does not it capture beautifully the feeling of the sun shining down on the waving poppies and corn?

Born February 25, 1841, Renoir does lovely still life paintings of flowers, and very pretty trees likewise. Among what I think the most beautiful of his still life flowers are those below.

It is interesting, and relevant to our theme that the flowers in the last painting are in a vase with is decorated with flowers – but the flowers on the vase are made into a pattern. Camille Pissarro also has an example of this.

vase-of-flowers

Another painter who likes mixing real-life flowers and flowers in patterns, decorating tables, walls, vases etc., is Henri Matisse.

He was born in the north of France on December 31, 1869, and is constantly mixing flowers in patterns with flowers in real life. This can be seen in his famous Harmony in Red, which depicts a room with a red table and walls, and a window open looking out on a garden. But what is interesting is that the table and walls are both patterned with flowers – but real life flowers stand in a vase in the fruit bowl, and can also be seen through the window in the garden. The pattern on the table even depicts pots of flowers – and the view, being without perspective, looks in many ways like another piece of wallpaper, so that at first sight it is hard to distinguish the real flowers from the patterns, for they are all in a jumble together. The lack of perspective makes patterns and real life flowers especially mixed up together. The modern paintings often concentrate less on perspective – this may be because photographs were invented around that time – and so there was no need to paint realistically any more. A few more Matisse paintings in which flowers and patterns of flowers are mixed (like flowers in vases) are shown below.

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As you may see,  the sofa below is covered with cloths with different flowery prints on it – as is the table on which the flowers are standing. Again, the real flowers seem jumbled in with the flowery cloths.

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Another interesting thing about the still life pictures of flowers, is that the flowers in the vases are art already, by the same principle as makes gardens art (mentioned earlier on) – they have been arranged in the vase by humans. This adds a new interest to the flowers on the table and walls in Harmony in Red – they are art in three different ways – in a way four. They are art because all flowers are art already, they are art because they are in a painting, they are art because they are a pattern in the painting – and they are art because they are arranged in pots and vases in the pattern. And by the same concept, the flowers on the vase in the Renoir picture are art in three different ways – though they are without the advantage of being arranged in a vase – and indeed, we can see why this is, for it would be pretty mind boggling to have flowers arranged in a vase on a vase. It is interesting too to note that the flowers on the vase on paintings are often similar to those in the vase – the first Matisse, for instance. The pattern on that vase is grassy like the plants in it. And also the shaggy red roses in the Pissarro match the more miniature ones upon their vase, and the white flowers on the vase in the Renoir can be compared with the flowers of the same colour near the bottom.

Van Gough’s most famous flower paintings are of sunflowers and irises. His irises have far more the atmosphere of a wild forest than a neat bed – like many of his works, they seem distorted, twisted, and swirling.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh also was interested in flowers as art – and in the problem of the immortality of art/flowers – but he seemed to take a different view of both from the other artists whom we have looked at – according to him ‘art is the flower – life is the green leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful thing – something that will convince the world that there may be – there are – things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life’.

 More lasting than life – it is interesting to try and conceive what he meant by this. Is it – in contrast to the idea that seemed to be suggested by Botticelli and other artists we have looked at here – the flower itself that is one of ‘things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life’ or is it, as in Shakespeare’s sonnet, the flower made into art that is lasting? Does he mean to show them that the picture is a ‘thing more precious …………… more lasting than life’, or will he use the picture to show them that the flower is ‘more lasting than life’?

Mackintosh was an architect and designer as well as an artist, and he often did detailed sketches of flowers which he studied until he saw a pattern in them. This can be seen in many of his paintings – especially in the two below.

The roses strongly form a pattern – and the flowers in the other painting have been stylized and simplified. This same thing has to be done when making a linocut or woodcut.

I have to think about Mackintosh a bit – final thoughts on flowers in art coming soon…

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One thought on “Art Essay – Part Two – Impressionists and after

  1. This is mind-blowingly fantastic, Ide. I feel very lucky to have had you as my guide in the Royal Academy and National Gallery.

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