Monet’s use of color along with use of intricate brush strokes and composition is outstanding. The vast variations of brush strokes and color placement techniques are what make his work so unique and individual. Grand Canal, Venice, 1908 is a prime example of Monet’s talents in these areas. The structure of the painting is very loose. There are few hard lines in the composition that represents solid structure.
The curves in conjunction with the shades of color as well as light usage give the piece a mirage-like effect. It is easy to imagine Monet’s vantage point while he was painting the picture by the way the composition is set up. One can tell he was looking towards the buildings on the other side of water because it’s obvious that the building are being reflected as well as the wooden poles sticking out of the water. It is quite evident that Monet is observing a sunset and that he is painting quickly to capture the full effect of light during this short period of the day with the study of light being the main focus in this work.
Shadow also plays a large part in the make up the painting. Monet uses an even tonality of blues, lavenders, oranges and pinks to create the buildings across the water, thus showing the sunlight reflecting off the sides of them. It’s quite amazing how he uses many different colors to create one large color. For instance, in the sky he uses a mixture of greens, pinks, oranges and blues to create the feeling of dusk as the sun slowly sets to the right of the picture.
In the far edge of the water he uses greens and blues with a hint of lavender here and there to show the darkness of the water behind the buildings where the sunlight isn’t reaching. When the water comes closer to the bottom of the painting there is a heavier use of oranges, yellows and pinks creating a golden mirror-like effect reflecting the light coming off of the buildings. At this point it is hard to determine if the sunlight is actually striking the surface of the water or if it is just the reflection of the sun off of the buildings alone. Once one looks at the poles sticking out of the water it’s easier to determine if the sun is hitting the water or not.
It must be hitting a good portion of the water because only the closest pole is dark, with no sun hitting it, but the poles which are farther away have light, then again it may just be the reflection of the light off of the buildings. This is why the painting has such a mirage-like effect because the viewer cannot really decipher what he or she is supposed to perceive the work as. The actual form of the building is less evident due to the brilliant atmosphere of the painting making it quite clear that Monet’s main concern with this piece, as well as many of his others, is light. How he uses color to express his concern for light is outstanding. In this particular piece Monet uses sketch-like brush strokes to create the main objects of the scene. The water consists of numerous horizontal brush stokes in varying color to create the look of reflection.
The buildings are more blended and the use of impasto is less evident mainly in the sky. The surface of the painting from the upper parts of the building to the top of the canvas gets smoother as the eye rises. The layering of the colors in the water and heavier strokes of paint allow Monet to create the reflectiveness he is trying to accomplish in order to portray the time of day. The use of smaller strokes and lighter colors over the heavier strokes and darker colors strengthens the effect of the sunlight on the water. For the sky Monet blends the colors together and uses very light shades of them to create the pastel, soft, late day effect.
For the buildings he uses a more erratic technique, blending less than the sky. He tends to follow through with the stroke and use less paint to cover more area at a time, unlike the fast, thicker strokes used in the water. Monet is a genius when it comes to using many different colors and brush strokes to create one specific tone of a color and create specific effects with those colors. For example, from a distance the largest pole coming out of the water seems to be mainly brownish-blue color but up close it is actually a conglomeration of purples, greens, reds, oranges and even some black. The same holds true in the rest of the painting.
The water is especially intriguing. Monet uses such a vast array of colors mixed together to create the reflective aspect he is trying to portray. It looks as if he started with the darker colors along the edge of the buildings working his way toward the bottom of the canvas. The brush strokes look very quick and abrupt as if he was painting hastily.
Once the bluish tones of the water were established Monet continues to work his way towards the bottom of the canvas using layers. He moves into greens and continues to layer with lighter and lighter colors working in conjunction with the colors used to create the shadow and light on the buildings above. The pinks and oranges begin to play a key role in portraying the reflection in the top layers on paint. The final layers of paint also tend to be thicker than the rest. This gives the impression (no pun intended) that this portion of the painting may have been rushed, or maybe even completed at a later time due to the fact that Monet was trying to capture the effects of light at a particular time of day.
When one looks much closer it looks as if the actual reflection was captured at the time of the painting on the underneath layers of paint. The more I look at the painting I begin to believe that Monet went over the painting again adding the thicker, smaller strokes of varying color in order to accent the rest of the painting. These particular details seem to occur only in the water and seem to have taken some undetermined length of time to think about it. However, the length of time taken seems to be greater than them amount of time Monet had to paint since the time of day he is working with doesn’t allow much time for thinking. These particular techniques seem to be very effective and appropriate for the subject. Monet is basically painting a study of light in this piece.
The varying brush strokes and wildly variable use of color brings out the effect of light in this piece magnificently. Though he is using a limited number of colors he can still manage to create a specific tone of color with what he is using. It seems as if Monet is trying to get across to the viewer what it is really like to witness a sunset on the Grande Canal and how fascinating the actual colors are. The view seems to lack a certain “crispness” though as if the air was heavy or moisture filled, in turn making the building across from him less detailed allowing Monet to focus on the aspect of shadow in the composition instead of being distracted by the detail of the buildings. The same can be said about the water.
The thick moist air seems to act a prism allowing Monet to scatter the different colors all over the canvas, still making it known that it is water, especially by implementing the reflective techniques which he has used so greatly. I think that Monet had a passion for studying light and it’s effects with the use of color and considered this particular viewpoint an excellent opportunity to further his studies. I believe he enjoyed exploring reflections on water and maybe wanted to encourage others to do the same, not necessarily exploring reflections on water but to explore anything which he/she may have a passion for. With Monet in particular, his juxtaposition of complimentary colors allowed him to gain the effect he was going for in his study of reflections, especially in the Grand Canal, Venice, 1908. Bibliography Pete Sanchez Art History – J. Russell 04-21-00 Claude Monet Grand Canal, Venice, 1908 Museum of Fine Arts Oil on canvas Bequest of Alexander Cochrane, 1919 19.171