Learning from Monet

Learning from Rembrandt has been appreciated by many of my readers and so based on their request here is another similar article.

Oscar Claude Monet was a famous french painter, who is well known as the founder of french impressionist painting movement. He took his painting outdoors from the studio and painted mostly landscapes. The impressionist movement itself consisted of putting across ideas to the viewer more strongly rather than focusing on accuracy of natural elements. As is the case with most painters, even Monet can be great source of learning for photographers too.

Impression, Soleil Levant

(Impression, soleil levant – the hallmark painting of the rising sun which gave its name to the art movement)

Expressing the Perception

The paintings focus on the central idea and try to accentuate that. Other details are lost in whatever looks natural to the scene. Things like fog, shadows, smoke etc are used to hide the parts which are not important to show. Even in the above painting ‘Impression, soleil levant’, the main focus is on the silhouette of the boat in the foreground and the sun with its reflection in the water. Rest of the scene is blurred by showing smoke and fog. The sun and its reflections are painted with bold quick strokes so as to capture its essence.


Landscapes with Bright Colors

It is not that all his paintings have the above features. Some of his works also show clear landscapes. Monet painted what attracted him in his surroundings, which also included many paintings of his own garden.

Monet’s landscapes show very bright colors. The grass looks fresh, the flowers appear full of life. Red flowers in the center of overall greens! Was he aware of the color-theory and made use of that too?

Woman in a garden

(Woman in a garden)

Another lesson for photographers here is to step out and find photographs in the surroundings itself. Even a painter like Monet found his own garden and surroundings interesting.


Balance of Elements

Coming back to Monet’s paintings, another common feature in most of his works is the overall balance of the elements in the scene. The series of paintings of water-lilies, show the flowers in various part of the canvas, making the scene complete. Though the scenes have these elements, none of them happen to be extra. They all contribute to the overall image.

Water Lilies

(Water Lilies – Notice the balance in the painting brought about by the flowers in the lower left and upper right part of the frame)


Time of the Day / Different Seasons

Another striking feature of paintings by Monet is that his landscapes show the same subject in a variety of light conditions. Sometimes even in different seasons! Photographers should also learn to come back to a scene and photograph is again and again in different seasons and at different times of the day.

(Grainstacks in the Sunlight, Morning Effect – photograph above
Grainstacks, end of summer – photograph below)

Try searching for wheatstacks or grainstacks by Monet on internet. You’ll be surprised by how many variations of the same subject have been painted by him, in different seasons and at different times of the day. In fact, most of his paintings are a series in the same manner.


Reflections and Shadows

Monet’s paintings frequently include water-bodies and so reflections are expected. What makes this aspect special is that the reflections contribute to the overall balance of the elements in many paintings, as I have already discussed above.

Similarly shadows play an important role in his paintings. The time stands still in his works even though it would have taken Monet many days to complete any single piece of art. The shadows try to add a little bit of realism and sometimes these too are placed to balance out the other elements.

Monet loved playing with natural light. His paintings show how light interacts with various elements in the frame and how the character changes with shadows and reflections.

(Woman with a parsol – notice the shadow in the lower left side of the frame. Unlike what photographers prefer, series of these paintings have the sun shining on the back of the person. Observe how the colors change in the region with shadow)


On a personal note, I am not a very big fan of impressionist era of paintings. However I am totally in favor of the philosophy of putting the idea across boldly.

Ansel Adams has very famously said, ‘There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.’ As a corollary to this statement, an average quality image of a sharp idea is a great photograph.

Photographs of the paintings : Public Domain


Further Reading:
Learning from Rembrandt
Learning from Johannes Vermeer

One thought on “Learning from Monet

  1. Wonderfully written article about Monet. Loved your insights of both Monet as we as Rembrandt. This age of fast and furious captures to impress social media, people forget what masters have taught over centuries. Keep up the good work.


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