Painting Monet’s Eyes

The term “Impressionism” comes from Claude Monet‘s famous Sunrise and was first used to mock the paintings on display at a show in 1874. The Impressionists liked the name probably because it conveyed the way they conceived of the images they made as translations directly from sense impressions without too much meddling from objectivity. This idea made it possible to have as a subject the senses themselves and what was projected on them by the outside world. It was painting straight from the source, the senses, and the object that was projecting its image on the retina did not have to be the center of attention in terms of subject.

That’s why Monet and others were able to paint series of paintings that portrayed the same scene on different occasions, or rather paint different occasions of the same scene hitting their senses. Monet was a prolific painter and his series of Water Lilies and paintings of the Rouen Cathedral would be a complete oeuvre for many other artists. The pictures of both series are scattered around the world, but Musée d’Orsay had a few of them on display, and the Rouen paintings were actually pretty nice.

Source: Wikipedia


Source: Wikipedia


Source: Wikipedia

As always, these pictures of the paintings do not convey the effect they have in real life. To start from the obvious, they are small, the colors get twisted on the monitor, and there’s only the one view from straight ahead. But there’s more to it than that. Monet is the painter whose work suffers the most on camera partly because it’s impossible to see the enormous depth these scenes have in these renditions and partly because his philosophy of painting makes the differences between the original and the reproduction so blatantly obvious.

It sounds stupid to say that the pictures you see above are not the pictures on display at Musée d’Orsay and that they are just little pixel clusters that mimic Monet’s pieces: your sense impressions of these jpgs are not the same that would be had were you standing in front of the actual pieces. This is what comes across because were it a reproduction of a Realist painting we could all agree on the reality being conveyed. It would be objective, detailed, and reproducible because of our agreement that this is what and how reality looks like — and perhaps also because it really looks like that. In Monet’s work the subject is not objective reality but the subjective experience of objective reality. Therefore, I would have to do this with the actual paintings in order for you to see what I saw. And I’m a bit low on cash at the moment, so that’s not going to happen.

1 Response to “Painting Monet’s Eyes”



  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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