We are asked to look at a range of painting with particular attention to the way the paint has been applied. Focussing on artists like Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, van Gogh and the Expressionist painters, as well as some twentieth-century pastel paintings.
I purchased a book several years ago, which analyses in great detail the paintings of many Impressionist painters. With regards to Claude Monet, one of the paintings discussed is ‘Saint-Lazare Station’ 1877, which is painted in oils on primed canvas and is about 75cm x 104cm in dimensions.
Monet used a limited palette for this painting, it is suggested that this comprised of lead white, chrome yellows, vermilion, red alizarin lake, cobalt blue, possibly ultramarine blue, cobalt violet and veridien green. Black may have also been used. Monet obtained special permission to be able to set up his easel in the station, so that he could capture the light and atmosphere of the place directly. The painting composition is very strong with the canopy of the station building framing the overall scene. The steam from the train has turned a pale blue inside the canopy of the station, which is a contrast to the bright golden light outside. The entire picture is harmonious but pulsates with light and shadow.
Caked and loaded drying colours build up to form a crusty irregular paint surface. This physically breaks up and scatters the light bouncing off the surface, enhancing the illusion of light represented in the picture. Much of the dragged handling is applied wet over dry. A lively contrast is created between warm and cool hues, and between the stark symmetry of the station canopy and the flamboyant curls depicting the rising steam and smoke. Brushwork mainly echoes form, following planes and describing varied textures in rich paint. Colours are mostly mixed. For example, the blues and yellows were simply mixed with white to give luminous pastel-like tints evoking light.
P. 86 – reference book (credited below)
Monet worked very quickly in this setting and created seven paintings in total from his time there.
A painting discussed in my reference book by Pissarro is Portrait of Madame Pissarro Sewing near a Window c. 1877-1879
This is a wonderfully executed portrait, closely cropped and full of complementary elements. The curves of the ironwork at the window echo the curves in Madame Pissarro’s face, blouse and hands. The horizontal and vertical lines of the window intersect behind her head, so this ‘locks’ her in place in the picture plane. His colour palette was possibly lead white, yellow ochre, chrome yellow, vermilion, cobalt or ultramarine blue and chrome green. The canvas was primed with a commercial yellowish-grey primer, which leaves the twill canvas texture visible.
The decisive pattern of the twill weave, a diagonal texture which goes from bottom left to top right, is actively exploited among the marks of the brush in the stiffish, chalky paint. The canvas weave is particularly evident at the juncture of blocks of colour and at the contours of forms where the paint is most thinly applied. It builds up more thickly towards the central areas, for example, the swelling forms of the face, which are the most thickly painted areas, while the paint is thinnest as the form recedes towards the contour lines.
P. 88 reference book (credited below)
- Twill canvas texture exaggerated by dragged colour (top middle light bar)
- Fine detailed accents in vermilion, applied wet over dry (hair)
- Delicate hatched brush strokes (back of neck)
- Colours slurred together wet in wet (the curling shape of the ironwork)
- Twill canvas texture exposed at contours where paint thinnest (bottom section around the lower hand)
- Warm grey ground left to stand for linen fabric on which Mme. Pisarro works.
P.90 reference book (credited below)
I have chosen as a study piece another painting analyzed in my reference book, this time Mountain seen from L’Estaque’ c.1878-1800
Cézanne painted this scene many times, it was the subject of his most prolific series of studies of the natural world around him. It is suggested that his palette for this work could have comprised:
Lead white, zinc white, black, chrome yellow, yellow ochre, red earth or vermilion, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, viridian green and emerald green. Other pigments could have been naples yellow, Prussian blue and chrome green.
I am always stunned by the way Cézanne contrasts oranges and greens in his work, it is very hard to do without it looking naïve. The analysis for this painting states the following:
- Thinly applied blues (sky) transluscent sky paint, cream ground visible.
- Hatched reworking of sky colours probably unfinished (top right above trees)
- Uncovered cream ground among skyline colours (just above the left side of the mountain)
- Broadly scrubbed in colours for mountain
- Accent of bright red, probably vermilion in the centre below the mountain mass)
- Vertical parallell hatched brushwork follows plane (the grey area left middle ground)
- Absence of tree shadow (left middle ground) eaves strong form of swelling mound unbroken
- Cast shadow tinged with reflected blue from the sky (wall directly to the right of the tree with no shadow)
- Fluid lines define from and suggest shadow (foreground semi-circle of trees)
- Full curved strokes of the loaded brush for tree foliage (trees in foreground semi-circle)
Cezanne’s separate brushstrokes of paint serve both to record his visual sensations of colour and to structure his composition. The touches here vary according to the angle of planes and the direction of forms. The trees in the foreground are depicted with curved strokes which suggest their characteristic form. Local colours are bright in the clear light, modified only by the warm sunlight and cool blue shadows. The fall of light, from right to left across the view, casts shadows which add structure to the composition.
P. 115 reference book (credited below)
Vincent van Gogh.
‘Peach trees in Blossom’ c.1889
It is widely understood how much van Gogh used thick impasto in his work. The painting here discussed is no exception. I will not go into this in great detail, as there are pages and pages of discussion around van Gogh’s technique. His painting style, to me, was very wild and uninhibited. He stabbed at the canvas, with exceptionally thick applications of colour in the foreground of this painting. Yet, the background sky area and mountains, even the houses are treated with a softer approach, he dabs the paint onto the canvas for the sky, it is far more controlled.
I have a bit of an issue with labels for specific time-zones in the history of art and whilst it’s accepted that Expressionism began in Germany supposedly around 1905 and ended in 1930, I don’t agree. I feel that Expressionism has never ended at all. Expressionism is the distortion of form, using strong colours, conveying deep emotions from ‘within’ an artist, rather than just depicting what the artist observed (a la the Impressionists). Edvard Munch is perhaps one of the most recognisable Expressionist artists, but to me there are millions more and I battle to think of just a few to focus on here.
I touched on famous historical artists who utilised pastels in the notes for my assignment four work, artists such as Degas and Monet. Here are a few examples of other famous works by Impressionist and Expressionist artists.
https://mymodernmet.com/world-famous-pastel-artists/ and source for Picasso image of head of a woman 1921
(essay discussing the emergence of pastel art)
https://www.artic.edu/artworks/76395/flower-clouds (Source of image)
Callen A. Techniques of the Impressionists 2004 Greenwich Editions – Quantum Books
This book covers the work of Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Jean Francois Millet, Paul Cezanne, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Paul Signac, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Andre Derain and Henri Matisse. It gives exceptionally detailed analysis on most major works of these artists and has been a valuable resource for me over the years.