One cannot truly experience Impressionism without actually witnessing a painting from the movement in person. This became apparently clear to me after I visited the McNay Art Museum, located in San Antonio, Texas, and found myself before Claude Monet’s Water Lilies painted within 1916 and 1919. This grand piece is a prime example of the Impressionism period and allowed me to truly experience the movement and understand the techniques that comprised it.
Impressionism was a radical art movement within modern art history that focused on capturing light and allowing brushstrokes to show, rather than trying to create a “licked surface.” Often looking unfinished, pieces of the Impressionism movement included broad, loose strokes of flat, bright, pure colors that were not carefully composed, but were masterly placed in order to create a skillful illusion. When viewing Monet’s piece, I was able to witness this illusion first-hand. When close to the piece allowing myself to be consumed by its massive size, the brushstrokes become the main focus appearing thick, random, and raw. The thick impasto of the paint created depth and shadows amongst the different varieties of paint that made the painting look more like an artist’s paint palette, rather than a treasured painting. The true picture came into focus only when I stood back from the piece, letting my eyes optically blend the pure brushstrokes to create new colors and shapes. From this distance, the water lilies resting on the still water came into focus and the brushstrokes no longer stuck out. This illusion gave me a different perspective of light and color, and allowed me to “play” with Monet’s piece as I viewed it.
Impressionism was a movement that focused on capturing light and color in order to create an impression of the view witnessed by the artist. By working quickly and with a loose hand, Impressionism artists, such as Claude Monet, created paintings that fooled the eyes and created skillful illusions. By capturing light through short, choppy, unblended brushstrokes, an interesting phenomenon was created in which a picture could be seen from a distance, but the details were not what was expected when viewed up-close. Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series is a prime example of Impressionism and allows the guests at the McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio, Texas to truly experience this movement’s playful illusions of light.