The use of color by artists depends on both personal predilections as well as environmental and social circumstances. This paper will use the works from three well-known artists to illustrate the assumption that the use of color and the style of each artist is combination of these various factors. An important issue that will be dealt with is the artistic climate and the predominant view on art and art theory at the time. Another important aspect is the artist's personal creative aims and views as they relate to color and art in general.
The use of color is part of the artist's creative process and forms an important part of the works of the following three artists: Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Signac. Specific woks by these artists will be referred to in this discussion.
Color, while not the only element that constitutes their works is an extremely important aspect in the final impression and meaning of the paintings. It is also important to note that it is the use of color and the way that each artist uses and redefines color in relation to the overall structure, style and content of the painting that is important. In other words, color must be understood and appreciated in conjunction with the other artistic elements in order to fully comprehend the significance of each work of art.
In the painting Grainstack, ( 1891) Claude Monet makes use of line and perceptual colors to convey a feeling of solitude as well as intense presence in the central image of the painting. There is a sense in this work that Monet encountered a rich and deep meaning in the solitude that he conveys in this painting. The luminous colors and the time of day -- sunset -- all contribute to a wistful feeling of closure and decline as the day recedes.
However, the painting is neither sad nor depressing, but is extremely uplifting in its loneliness. The best words to desire the impact of the painting is "presence." The sense of something larger than life is emphasized by the weight and texture of the grainstack in conjunction with the receding light and the horizon. The artist succeeds in conveying a strong and intense sense of something that extends beyond the ordinary perceptions in this work. This sense of presence is also largely dependent on the use of line and color in the work.
The painting also conveys a sense of 'reaching out' and implies a desire to touch and connect with others. This is suggested by the background and the attraction of the distant horizon. At the same time there is also the suggestion that the artist has a need for contemplation and silence and a distance from the hustle and bustle of humanity.
The strength of the painting lies in its use of color and the specific techniques. The hatched and crossed style of painting with short stokes provides the work with sense of structure and solidity. This is added to by the use of strong and rich colors.
In the 1870's Monet developed his distinct style and particular way of painting. He created light and atmosphere through the use of rhythmic and broken brushstrokes. This is an impressionistic technique which enabled the artist to capture the fleeting moments of nature and life through immediate and direct observation. Using this style, Monet created solid and geometrical objects with touches of line and color.
In terms of the artistic milieu of his time, Monet's earlier work signals a break from the past conflict in art between line and color as the dominant aspects of painting. This period also was freer in terms of artistic expression.
Monet began his painting career in an atmosphere which he no longer felt bound to paint from a religious and mythological basis -- which had previously been seen as essential elements of artistic creation. This meant that the artist felt free to explore new and more expressive methods of artistic creation and "they no longer troubled themselves about composing pictures based on geometric principles. They continued to compose, of course, but they chose their patterns with an eye to pictorial rhythm, and were thereby led to seek out new rhythms. " (Rouart, 1958, p. 18)
In order to fully understand Monet's work, as well as the work of the other two artists under discussion in this paper, one has to understand the significance and the revolutionary nature of impressionism. The impressionists as a group of artists first showed their works together in 1874. Monet contributed a painting entitled "Impression?
Sunrise." Critics "ridiculed both the title and the painting, but the name "Impressionism" stuck." (Stuckey, Charles) The radical nature of these paintings exhibited by Monet, with Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas and others, was seen as a threat not only to the traditions of fine art but also to the moral order of things.
" ....critics considered works like Monet's to be a threat to moral order. Prior to Impressionism, artists attempted to portray their subjects exactly as they appeared. Impressionism was considered slap-dash, with broken brush strokes, rubbing, smearing or dabbing the paint on the canvas?
an inadequate perception of nature." ( ibid)
The aim of the impressionist school of art was to reflect and capture reality. This is much the same objective of most art movements but what made the impressionists unique and revolutionary for their time was that they were the first to use a new method and different techniques to capture the fluctuating essence of the real. "While other movements before Impressionism attempted to capture reality as static images, the Impressionist painters, and later the composers, tried to show the nature of reality through the fluctuation and change in light, tone and color. "( Claude Monet)
Monet's work had a profound influence on other artists such as Degas, particularly in terms of his emphasis on color. " ... his color began to approach that of the other Impressionists and he employed techniques, particularly in pastel, that gave to the whole a more granular, broken, and flickering effect ? qualities not found in his earlier work." (ibid)
Paul Bonnards' Terrace paintings seem to suggest the very opposite of Monet's Grainstacks. There is a gush of life and excitement in the intense use of color that is expressed with verve and passion in this painting and many others. In the Terrace painting we do not have the same sense of intense solitude that is evident in Grainstacks. However there is a great similarity between the two works in their expressive use of color and line; and particularly in the understanding of color as a means of conveying an immediate experience.
Bonnard was also very concerned with the implications of color for modern art. He as a member of group of young arts which included Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis, called Nabis. The emphasis of the group was on color and they followed the expressive possibilities of color that has been initiated by Gaugaiun. Bonnard was interested in " ... representing things symbolically in strong patterns and colour." (BONNARD Pierre)
While Bonnard is not as famous as Picasso or Matiise, yet he was great admired and imitated by his contemporaries. He is considered one of the great colorists of the period. " Bonnard is best known for his experimentation with bold, vivid colors and his innovative use of composition."
Bonnard painted in his studio rather than outdoors. He was one of the first artists to experiment with color outside the range of naturalistic representation and perspective. For example in Terrace at Vernonnet the dominant tree trunk is painted in strong violet tones. The entire painting is a glowing tapestry of passionate color. He was also concerned that the experience of the work of art should involve the attention of the viewer. " ... he didn't want everything in the picture to be evident at first glance -- more concentrated looking was expected." (BONNARD Pierre)
Bonnard's subject matter is intense and filled with suggestions of life and energy. It is much more lavish than the example by Monet. Yet, at the same time, both paintings have a strong sense of presence. There is, like the Monet work, also a sense of solitariness and human distance implied in the rich colors of the painting. The human figure becomes so much a part of the color and texture that that it is difficult to immediately discern.
"Bonnard's visual effects encompass mood, dream, or desire. He gives us the sense of a glimpse -- a passing moment or memory. He sometimes places figures on the periphery or almost hides them in brushwork, so we don't see them right away." (Beetem R.2003) This sense of solitariness, while different to Monet, also speaks of human isolation and aloneness. "In some of his interiors, we get a kind of rich emptiness -- the sense one might feel after someone has just left a room and his or her presence lingers…