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Subject Matter

October 20, 2014

I couldn’t see the owner of the voice saying “Hi” to me in our pool locker room because a curtain of clothes hangers blocked my view. I parted the hangers but still couldn’t identify the person. I said, “Who is it? Without my glasses everything looks like a Monet painting.”


The person said, “Who is Monet, and what does he paint?”


I mumbled something about Claude Monet being an Impressionist who took canvas and paints outdoors to capture gardens, the Parisian countryside, rivers, haystacks and poppy fields, but I wasn’t satisfied with my answer. The best response to the question would have been—light: This might sound like a trite answer, but no one ever captured light like Monet.


Monet had already made a name for himself when in 1892 he rented space across from the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, where from 1892-1894 he created a series of thirty paintings capturing the façade of the cathedral at different times of the day and year, focusing on the changes of the façade under different lighting conditions.


Asked about the subject of these paintings, many people would identify the building and let it go at that, but these paintings have very little to do with the Rouen Cathedral. The subject is the “light,” defining the cathedral.


Monet liked to create series, groups of canvases related by a theme. In addition to his Rouen Cathedral series, he painted a series of pictures based on poplars in a field, along with his world famous water lilies. Before French Symbolist Odilon Redon became a famous artist, he is said to have stood before a painting from Monet’s Haystack Series and exclaimed, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. What is it?













These are just a few of the thirty paintings Monet painted of the Rouen Cathedral. Try to ignore the subject and just focus on the light.  




More of this series can be found by Googling “Monet’s Rouen Cathedral.”






I love Monet's work. He's who I think of when I think of painters. I saw a few of his pieces when at the National Museum. I think it was a traveling exhibit. I get lost in the muted color.
By: RIÇK WATSON on October 20, 2014
He is the only paionter who I can sometimes recognize because of his style.
By: cranky on October 20, 2014
'what is it?' loved that.
By: TexWisGirl on October 20, 2014
Since everyone is supposedly a critic, I am obliged to take my turn, and I would like to point out that it would have been much more accurate to title this piece as Changing the Subject Matter. FOR YOU NEVER DID TELL US WHO WAS IN THE POOL LOCKER ROOM WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on October 20, 2014
ahhhh Monet! Incredible painter of light and an incredible creator of a garden in Giverney. We have been there twice in the spring and we hope to be there next September. I am sure you have been there too. Wonderful artlesson here Stephen- thanks!
By: Kathe W. on October 20, 2014
Monet's work is AMAZING!!
By: fishducky on October 20, 2014
Monet is my favorite of all! It would be so peaceful to have prints of his work all over the house, whenever i wanted to relax, i would just look at one. He was a magician of an artist.
By: mimi on October 20, 2014
I love Monet. Were you naked in the locker room? It's weird to be naked and have someone greet you. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on October 20, 2014
Impressionists are the most romantic and loved them in my teens. I still like them very much but tend to be drawn to the Dutch and their use of light.
By: Tabor on October 20, 2014
I agree with Cranky on this one. Monet is the one artist I have no doubt about whose work it is.. Your statement about your eyesight is perfectly descriptive.
By: Akansas Patti on October 20, 2014
I love Impressionist art more than any other.. and Monet (Renoir and VanGogh) best of all. I have seen dozens of his (and their) work when visiting Boston (several times) and New York museums and could never seem to get enough of them nor tear my eyes away. Thanks for this.
By: Hilary on October 20, 2014
They are spectacular when I squint a bit and focus on the light. It's as if the light jumps off the canvas.
By: Robyn Engel on October 20, 2014
Subject matter, pool, the voice, anonymity, light, Monet... hmm... is this about the dream?
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 20, 2014
Because I am a cultured, classy broad, I know that "Monet" is pronounced differently than "Monette," the friend of Designing Women office manager Charlene Frazier. That's about the extent of my knowledge of the arts.
By: Val on October 20, 2014
You had a hard time to get me to look at the light. I finally got it!
By: red on October 20, 2014
I, too, love that comment. . "what is it?"
By: Catalyst on October 20, 2014
I count it a great joy to have looked upon work by Monet-they are timeless treasurers. Indeed Master is deserved. This is a wonderful post. Thank you.
By: Tom Cochrun on October 20, 2014
I am very interested in this particular cathedral, Stephen. In 1945 my father was in Rouen and took many photographs of the bombed out cathdral. When I was in school in the 1950's he got himself an enlarger and spent many hours with his 'hobby' of developping and printing many of the pictures he had taken over the years -- including those of Rouen Cathedral. Every year en route to our house in France we drive through Rouen and every year I say to my husband, "I really want to see the cathedral. As we continue driving...
By: The Broad on October 21, 2014
Beautiful work and an enLIGHTening post! Thank you.
By: John on October 21, 2014
Fascinating and educational. Thank you; your are a significant contributor to my personal development plan to increase my knowledge and understanding ART.
By: Bryan Jones on October 21, 2014
Just to show how incredibly UNrefined I am, when I read “Who is Monet, and what does he paint?” the first thing I thought of was the line in the first Austin Powers movie, "Who does Number Two work for?" Yeah, I'm so not classy that way.
By: Al Penwasser on October 21, 2014
And, more to the point, did he ever paint "Dogs Playing Poker"? Or, as Lucy from Peanuts would ask, "Was he ever on a bubble gum card?"
By: Al Penwasser on October 21, 2014
Just to show how incredibly UNrefined I am, when I read “Who is Monet, and what does he paint?” the first thing I thought of was the line in the first Austin Powers movie, "Who does Number Two work for?" Yeah, I'm so not classy that way.
By: Al Penwasser on October 21, 2014
Your vision is Monet. Mine is more Jackson Pollack, sans glasses.... eep. And yes, light would be a good description! Cat
By: Cat on October 21, 2014
I am so illiterate when it comes to art, but even I know who Monet is and I would recognize his paintings. Interesting about the series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral - I did not know that.
By: Pixel Peeper on October 21, 2014
Stephen: This is one of your best posts! It occurs to me no one has mentioned Monet to me in years. I enjoyed this immensely!
By: Michael Manning on October 22, 2014
I love how this started and then so smoothly transitioned. I once saw an exhibit of this series. I can't remember how many were included but it was amazing to see.
By: Mitchell is Moving on October 22, 2014
By: asd on November 28, 2014
By: a on November 28, 2014

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