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  • Leontien van Oord

The Impressionists in Winter - a master study

While the world outside is covered in a white blanket of snow, I study the Impressionists in winter. How did they deal with color and light and dark, what was their brushwork like and what motivated them to paint winter landscapes? The beautiful book 'Impressionists in Winter - Effets de Neige' is a source of information and contains an extensive overview of works by Monet, Renoir, Pisarro, Sisley, Caillebotte and Gaugain.

One of the most famous snowscapes is Monet's The Magpie which I saw last year at Musée D'Orsay in Paris. The way he deals with light and dark and manages to achieve a balance with horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines is magnificent! The color palette he has used for this work is stunning! I can also keep looking at Pissarro's work called Louveciennes. The way he renders shadows that indicate sunlight is fantastic.

The Magpie Louveciennes A cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur

The Impressionists painted so many beautiful snowy landscapes that it was not easy to choose one for my master study

Choosing a master piece

A painting that immediately caught my attention is Monet's beautiful work called 'A Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur'. The composition, the story and the stillness and serenity of this painting immediately appealed to me. There is some debate about the year he painted this painting, as he never dated it. Some scholars believe that the work was painted in 1876. However, many years after he completed it, Monet recalled that he painted it in 1865. This is supported by the signature he used at the time with a rounded 'M'. He used this until about 1866, after which the 'M' became more pointed.

The process

Before starting the full study, I first painted a detail of the painting to learn more about Monet's use of color and brushwork. This research into his way of working gave me a lot of information for my studies.

Monet's palette and use of color

In Richard Kendall's book 'Monet by Himself' I found that Monet only used Flake White, Cadmium Yellow, Vermilion, Deep Madder, Cobalt Blue and Emerald Green. He had no earth or brown tones on his palette, meaning he mixed them himself with complementary colors. I tested this by mixing colors myself to achieve the earthy tones in his painting. However, for my studies I decided to use the colors I have on my own palette and felt supported in this by the words of Monet who claims that: "the paint you use is not that interesting. It's about knowing how to use the colors." Monet developed his own way of doing this. He applied colors side by side, without trying to mix them. That was my biggest challenge, because I tend to blend to achieve the desired effect.

Monet's brushes and brushwork

It was not easy to find more information about the type of brushes Monet used and his brushwork. On the website I discovered that he used large brushes with a flat filbert tip with which he made small, flirty strokes. His intention was mainly to capture the light, more than the objects he painted, which are often rendered in a very suggestive way, something I admire very much.

The actual painting

After the detail study, I started on the painting, which will not be an exact copy, by the way, but my version of his beautiful snowy landscape. The original painting measures 65 x 92 cm, but as I didn't have that at hand, I opted for a smaller canvas of approximately the same proportions. I have been unable to find much information about how Monet started his works, so I have more or less followed my own path. First of all I made an underpainting to get the composition right. Then I blocked in large areas, working from dark to light. Finally I added the details like the horse and carriage, the trees and the snow on the branches.

The underpainting The masterstudy

This master copy was a fun and educational experience! I learned a lot about Monet's working method and especially about his use of color. Where I myself tend to mix colors and let brush strokes transition softly into each other, this study has stimulated me to place colors next to each other and to place brush strokes more consciously. Another impressionist who took this even further is Berthe Morisot, the only lady in the group of famous impressionists. For my next study I will further explore her life and beautiful work. Please feel free to read along!



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