Claude Monet is credited as being the founder and inspiration behind the Impressionist movement. His style of painting included outdoor scenes and often featured sky, grass, flowers, and bodies of water. People or elements of humanity, like boats or trains, were often used to contrast with the power and beauty of nature. To help convey the contrast, Monet often painted the human elements of his paintings smaller in scale to the natural elements to convey a sense of imperfection or vulnerability in humanity. Spontaneity was another Impressionist value often used in Monet’s paintings, frequently illustrated with brushstrokes that conveyed a random, sense of movement or human subjects doing spontaneous things. Monet’s painting, The Stroll, Claude Monet and her Son Jean (Woman with Parasol) contains this element of spontaneity and freedom and is a good example of many Impressionist values characteristic of Monet’s work.
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Monet’s painting features his own wife and child out for a stroll in the sunshine. One can understand the spontaneity through the bright sun shining down on them and the grass swirling around them. It is a windy, sunny day, and they’re out for a walk. The sense of movement in the painting can be felt in the wispy, moving clouds above Mrs Monet’s head and parasol. These have been painted with the swirling, soft brushstroke that is characteristically Impressionist, and they serve to give the impression of a strong breeze.
Mrs Monet’s parasol is darker and solid above her in the sky, and it seems to anchor her in place. The parasol appears to be keeping her steady, but it also shades the sun from her face so that her facial features are more discernable for the viewer. This play of light and dark represents another value of Impressionism and common feature in Monet’s work, according to Artcyclopedia: “The hallmark of the style is the attempt to capture the subjective impression of light in a scene” (Artcyclopedia 1). The impression of light and dark is derived in this painting through both the parasol and sky above Mrs Monet’s head and the grass around her skirt. The sky is a light blue and the clouds are bright white, seeming to almost be illuminated or highlighted by the sun. Her parasol is darker, drawing the eye to the human figures. Her skirt and the grass around her both swirl around, but her white skirt stands out as lighter against the darker grass. The grass is a vivid green against her skirt, helping to convey a sense of nature surrounding the human figures, but her skirt and the grass move as one and connect the two of them.
My eye is drawn to the boy at her left. This is Monet’s son, and he seems very small in scale compared to the swirling grass and the vast sky. His outline against the sky and grass is not as strong as Mrs Monet’s, making him seem smaller and more vulnerable which makes sense since he is such a small boy. Where his mother casts a long, dark shadow over the grass that appears to extend beyond the bottom border of the painting, the boy casts no shadow. He is actually half covered in the grass, and his lower half is completely invisible because of his small height in the tall grass. This effect helps to give a sense of dimension to the painting and helps the viewer understand the scale between the woman and her son and the nature that surrounds them. Nicholas Pioch states, “By depicting his son only from the waist up, Monet imparts a sense of depth to the setting” (Pioch, WebMuseum).
The young boy appears to anchor both himself and his mother to the grass and the ground in much the same way that her parasol above their heads serves to anchor them against the sky. It is interesting to note the sense of movement or lack of it between the boy and his mother. Her skirt swirls around her with the grass, both of them affected by the strong breeze, and soft brushstrokes across her face could be clouds or ribbons from her hat also in motion. But in the figure of the boy, nothing moves. His tie is still, his clothes are straight and unmoved, and he seems to be standing perfectly still as if he was unaffected by the wind. This could be interpreted as his mother shielding him from the wind and elements. It could also be interpreted to be another way to anchor him to the ground on which he is standing.
I was drawn to the similarities between the facial features of the mother and her son. Both of them have strikingly similar facial features, which makes sense once the viewer learns that the subjects are mother and son and that they are Monet’s wife and son, so he knows their faces very well. Both look straight at the viewer, seeming to pause in their spontaneous stroll and almost asking the viewer what he or she is doing there. Neither of them smiles at the viewer, however.
Their faces seem inquisitive and curious, but they do not smile. This also serves to convey a sense of spontaneity to the painting without making the subjects seem overly happy or fake. Their realistic expressions give the painting a sense of realism and humanity. They both seem to me to be waiting for something, perhaps for the wind to die down so they can continue walking. Mrs Monet’s features are darker and more pronounced than those of her son, due in part to the shade from her parasol. He stands next to her with only his hat for shade, so most of his face is in the sun. His features are painted softer and more subtly; Monet uses his characteristic swirling brushstrokes to give the boy a youthful feel.
The boy’s facial expression reminded me of taking vacations when I was young. I remember how my parents and aunts and uncles were so concerned with sunscreen and staying out of the sun, like Mrs Monet with her parasol, while the kids like me just wanted to run and play. This painting, with Mrs Monet taking her son on a spontaneous walk on a sunny day, reminded me of the joys of nature as a child.
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