A way of seeing
‘The Impressionists’ – BBC2’s drama documentary made informative viewing. There was a telling moment in the first episode where Julian Glover, as Monet, brandished a bunch of flowers before his guest’s eyes and asked, “What do you see?” It took the startled man three tries to give the answer Monet wanted – “Patches of purple, yellow, green…...” His natural reaction at first was to give names to the objects rather than respond to the emotive sensation of colour.
This little incident summed up nicely what the Impressionist painters were setting out to do – essentially to see the world as small patches of pure colour. Monet’s late water lily paintings are not concerned with portraying particular named varieties – instead he offers a purely personal assemblage of colour harmonies. Look more closely and even more subtleties of colour are revealed by the brush marks
It doesn’t do to be stuck in an Impressionist time capsule, painting moves on, but colour sensation and the mark – whether made with brush or chalk – are two basic elements in painting that allow us to communicate our personal view. The colour patch and the mark themselves are pure abstractions but Monet and his friends showed how they could be used to reveal a new way of seeing.