Look at artists who worked in series with the landscape such as Monet, Pissarro or Cezanne. Make notes in your learning log about the challenges they faced and how they tackled them.
Famed for his en plein air paintings, Monet painted many scenes time and again. In around 1876, with a growing reputation, Monet was determined to paint several pictures of Gard de St-Lazare. According to his friend Renoir, you may have heard of him, Monet dressed in his finest clothes and addressed the director of the Western Railways, introduced himself as “The Painter, Claude Monet” and informed him that he had chosen his station to paint. This eventually resulted in the station being closed, trains being fired up producing clouds of steam, just for Monet’s sole purpose of painting. Now, that is overcoming the challenges of a busy station! Not sure I’d get away with that at Waterloo – anyway I digress.
Monet started producing series of paintings in earnest around the 1890s. Beginning with the haystacks, he produced sketches and painted studies that became finished works. Always in a setting of the field with distant buildings indicated, as Monet said himself, the subject was not the objects in front of him as such but the conveyance of “what is alive between me and the subject”. Atmosphere, light, weather conditions etc all became the “subject”.
Going on to spend approximately two years painting the west door of the 12th century Gothic Rouen Cathedral in many different guises. The views are all very similar, although not identical, as he rented a small room opposite to work from – he did not manage to keep the same room for the project’s entirety. In the end he painted 30 different canvasses, ranging from morning sunlight to dull overcast days and the myriad of changing light in between. Monet did spend the following year re-working and adding to the paintings in his studio emphasising mood and atmosphere and giving balance. I have seen a selection of these displayed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and it is striking how different in appearance and feel each is to the other.
As for the challenges Monet faced in working outside, he painted in all weathers rain, snow, wind and blazing sun and was accustomed to working swathed in coats and blankets, being battered by the sea’s spray and whatever else nature could throw at him. Aside from the practicalities of maintaining body temperature and keeping dry, all these things are the very essence of Monet’s painting “what is alive between me and the subject”.
Research and photographs of images from Monet by Christoph Heinrich Published by Taschen 1994