I am not the artistic type. My fiancee will tell you that my artistic capability is rivaled only by our six-year-old’s ability. I am a writer. That is my art. I am actor. That is my art. Put a paintbrush in my hand and find me a small child trying to learn physics.
My appreciation of art is also limited to what others have observed or analyzed. That doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of appreciating the smaller nuances associated with great artwork, but I’m limited in my ability to truly appreciate them. Due to Covid-19, I decided to do a few virtual tours of art museums to see if I could find anything that stood out to me.
Who would have guessed it? I found one.
Imagine walking along a small forest path when out of the corner of your eye you notice a small, serene, and quietly beautiful scene. Turning to get a closer look, you take quick note of the more minute details. Lighter colors such as yellow, green, and white cover the still waters of the pond. More prominent, however, is a small, curved bridge that arches over the pond to provide a dry passage over the water.
Chirping birds and crickets resonate throughout the small forest as you continue looking at the serene scene. Snapping back into reality, you realize that you are not actually in a forest, but you have been walking the halls of The Met. The scene that caught your eye is actually the painting, Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies, by Claude Monet. Monet’s painting is breathtaking, stunning, and an overall example of a magical depiction.
According to The Met, Monet’s painting was done with oil on canvas in 1899. Monet bought a piece of land with a pond in close proximity to his property. Apparently, he purchased the land because he liked the way it looked, and it also provided great inspiration for painting. Monet said, “Then all of a sudden I had the revelation of how enchanting my pond was.” A few years after purchasing the land, Monet mounted a footbridge over the pond, which can be seen in the painting. Monet painted a total of eighteen canvases depicting this bridge and pond. However, this is the first one to enlarge and prominently put the focus on the bridge.
Oils are used a substantial amount due to the remarkable assortment of color possibilities. Sporre, the author of the book linked in the previous sentence says, “Oils present many options for textural manipulation; and they are durable.” Monet was able to give the picture different aspects of two and three dimensional angles while providing vibrant colors of green, white, pink, and yellow while using oil as his base. The Met describes the use of canvas as a way to give the painting a rougher, more rugged look that helped better depict the harshness, and conversely, the beauty of nature.
A simple description of the type of media and materials used in this painting is not enough to truly describe what Monet did with his brush. This is one of the few paintings of this pond that was done vertically rather than as a landscape. The Met says that this was done because it “allows for a greater relationship between the flora of the earth and water, giving slightly more prominence to the lilies.”
Examining other paintings of this pond shows a wider range of the color spectrum, giving emphasis to the different looks of the area. However, this particular painting uses colors from the middle of the spectrum such as green, yellow, pink, and white. Some blue can be seen in the extremely small opening of the trees in the form of a clear sky. A reflection of the sky can also be seen in the small, uncovered areas of the water.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the painting can be seen in the differences between the thickness of the lilies and trees in contrast to the openness and reflection of the actual pond. This contrast draws focus to the bridge and the lilies. The Met describes this contrast as an illusion between “recession into depth and . . . reflective, translucent quality . . . ”
The pond retreats farther behind the bridge to a closed off set of trees, and the lilies sit upon miniscule tufts of weaving reeds and grass which provides an impression of recession into depth. Conversely, the arch of the bridge and the light colors and reflection of the pond and lilies provides a feeling of openness.
Monet took a simple scene that many people see in gardens, forests, and other pictures, and turned it into something even more beautiful. After installing a footbridge over the pond on his property, Monet decided to start painting different pictures of the pond. Using oils and canvas, Monet captured a magical moment that only seems possible to experience when actually present at the pond. Different layers of reflection, depth, translucent colors, and magic cascade the canvas.
This painting was able to convey a sense of surreal fantasy while also providing a stunning look at nature and how something real can ultimately feel like something that only brews in the imagination.