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Monet's Waterscapes

Grade Level: 9–12    Curriculum Connections: Language Arts

Students will learn the color theory and techniques that guided Claude Monet’s impressionist painting and apply those techniques to the creation of their own works of art.

monet

Claude Monet
French, 1840–1926
The Japanese Footbridge, 1899
oil on canvas, 81.3 x 101.6 cm (32 x 40 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly, in memory of her son John W. Mudd, and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg

Materials

  • SMART Board or computer with ability to project two short films
  • Water-soluble oil paints (or oil pastels, especially for painting outdoors), colors used in demonstration film
    • Cobalt blue
    • Cadmium yellow
    • Alizarin crimsom
    • Ultramarine blue
    • Brilliant rose
    • Emerald green
    • Azurite blue (copper-based)
    • Hookers green
    • Violet
    • White
  • Brushes
  • Canvas or canvas paper (any support that can handle a buildup of oil paint) You may want to tape the canvas paper to a drawing board or hard surface.
  • Palette
  • Painter’s tape to get a crisp white edge
  • Water container
  • Rags or paper towels

Warm-Up Questions

Imagine yourself standing on this bridge and describe your surroundings. What do you notice—any sounds? What’s the weather like? Do you see any plants or animals?

Background

In 1883, Monet moved to a property in Giverny, France. It was in Normandy, just over the Epte River from the Île-de-France, a favored spot for Parisians’ summer retreats. 

giverny-map-2

Improvements to the gardens occupied Monet until his death in 1926. In his last decade, he painted little else but his prized lily pond, which had required long negotiations with local authorities to allow diversion of river water. Monet’s stepson described the lily pond in 1960:

This was entirely his own creation; he converted a patch of landscape, and filled it with water to mirror the sky and with plants: some red, yellow, pink, and white water lilies to float on this water as though it were on the surface of the sky; the others, irises, calatheas, and arrowheads to mark the line of the banks, and above all else to give pleasure to the eyes . . . and then there is a little Japanese-style arched bridge. . . .  

Quoted in Bernard Denvir, ed. Impressionists at First Hand (London, 1987), 151.

Monet called his water-lily pictures paysages d’eau (waterscapes). Progressively, they lost their landscape elements. Here, the sky has already been eliminated; the lush foliage rises all the way to the frame, and the decorative arch of the bridge flattens the illusion of three-dimensional space. Attention is forced onto the paint surface itself, and held there, not drawn into the scene. In later lily-pond paintings, flowers and their mirrored reflections assume equal stature, blurring distinctions between solid objects and transitory effects of light. (See Water Lilies from 1914–1926 in MoMA’s collection as an example of this.) Monet had always been interested in reflections, feeling that their discontinuous and fragmented shapes paralleled his own broken brushwork.

Guided Practice

Brushstrokes: Ask students to find and label with a descriptive word or phrase the various kinds of brushstrokes that Monet used to convey different elements of the waterscape. How do brushstrokes and color combine to create light and form? Consider words such as:

  • choppy
  • smooth
  • dots
  • drags
  • dabs
  • streaks
  • short and long dashes
  • ripples

Horizon line: Is there a clear horizon line? How is a distinction made (or not) between land and water? Between water and air? Between actual object and reflection of that object?

Movement: How does Monet convey movement or stillness of water—through color, line, brushstroke? What kind of movement is it—quick, slow, languid?

Vantage point: What is your perspective on the scene as the viewer? Is your vantage point at water level or suspended above? At water’s edge? Alongside the pond? Consider what methods Monet used to convey vantage point, such as cropping, framing, or other compositional arrangements.

Present the short film Monet’s Water Lily Garden and Japanese Footbridge and have students reflect on Monet’s translation of this landscape. Do his brushstrokes and composition convey the sights and sounds of this peaceful pond? Is there anything you would have added or removed? How would this change your impression of this place?

Film: Monet’s Water Lily Garden and Japanese Footbridge

Activity

In this activity, students will take into consideration their observations from the Guided Practice section to create their own impressionist painting of Monet’s water lily garden. Before they begin, present the film Monet’s Palette and Technique (below) where landscape painter David Dunlop demonstrates the colors and techniques employed by Monet to capture his impression of this pond.

Film: Monet's Palette and Technique

Now project the first film, Monet’s Water Lily Garden and Japanese Footbridge, again—this time on a loop so students can directly observe his landscape as they paint like Monet. They may choose to focus on a few lily pads or a cluster of grasses along the shore or even take a different vantage point of the bridge. Please see the glossary at the end of this lesson for a list of terms and definitions used in this film.

Extension

Students will incorporate their observations and David Dunlop’s instruction to create a painting of a favorite local outdoor place: an athletic field at the school, a neighborhood park, their own backyard, or another setting important to them. They can use oil pastels if painting in oils outdoors (en plein air to the French impressionists) is too cumbersome. Once back in the classroom, students will display their works of art to fellow classmates. As a group, students should reflect on what impression each painting leaves by observing brushstrokes, horizon lines, sense of movement, and vantage points (adapt questions from the Guided Practice section to each piece).

Glossary
(in order of mention)

Simultaneous contrast is the way in which two different colors can affect each other. When placed side by side, one color can change how we perceive the tone and hue of the other color. The colors themselves don't change, but we see them as altered. Simultaneous contrast is most evident when complementary colors are placed side by side.

Successive contrast is the effect created when you look at an object or a color immediately after you have observed an object or color for a prolonged period of time. An after-image is retained by your eye and can alter the color or hue of what you view next or in succession.

Fovial vision is the process of viewing an object directly and often in detail (or the opposite of peripheral vision).

Value is the lightness or darkness of a color.

Subtractive mixing means that one begins with white and ends with black. As one adds color or mixes in more paint, the result gets darker and tends to black.

Cross-hatching is the process of marking or shading with two or more sets of intersecting parallel lines.

Opaque colors are nontransparent and cannot be seen through.

Glazing is a technique of applying a transparent coating to the surface of a painting to modify the color tones.

Perspective in drawing or painting is a way of portraying three dimensions on a flat, two-dimensional surface by suggesting depth or distance.

Complements are two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, which when placed next to each other make both appear brighter. The complementary color of a primary color (red, blue, and yellow) is the color you get by mixing the other two (red + blue = purple; blue + yellow = green; red + yellow = orange). So the complementary color for red is green, for blue it's orange, and for yellow it's purple.

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and are often found in nature (ex. blue, blue-green, and green).

Symmetry is achieved in a work of art when elements are given equal weight from an imaginary line in the middle of a piece. For example, think of your eyes in relation to either side of your nose.

Asymmetry occurs when elements are placed unevenly in a work of art but work together to produce harmony overall.

Volume is the amount of space that a figure or object takes up in a painting or drawing.

Gradual transition is the process of blending colors so that they slowly shift from one color or shade to another.

Abrupt transition is the process of blending colors so that they quickly shift from one color or shade to another.

National Core Arts Standards

VA:Re8.1HSI Interpret an artwork or collection of works, supported by relevant and sufficient evidence found in the work and various contexts.

VA:Cr2.1HSII Through experimentation, practice, and persistence, demonstrate acquisition of skills and knowledge in a chosen art form.

VA:Re7.1HSII Recognize and describe personal aesthetic and empathetic responses to the natural world and constructed environments.

Related Resources

Play the NGAKids Paintbox interactive

Listen to a short audio track on Monet’s “The Japanese Footbridge”

Download or borrow the Picturing France teaching packet and accompanying Classroom Guide about 19th century painting in France

Explore Monet’s series paintings through this online tour

Compare Monet’s style to other impressionists at the National Gallery of Art

Contact

Questions or comments? E-mail us at [email protected]