Monet's Beautiful Murk

Monet is a master of grey (see my last post) and also of dark, dingy, beautiful brown. 

His browns are supporting players with loads of character, backing up pure colors that are the stars of the show. Those murky browns are harder to paint than you might think...

Monet is often mixing complements--green and red, orange and blue, yellow and purple--to arrive at all shades of "brownish" color.

Watercolor swatches of complements--top row is green to red, middle row is orange to blue, bottom is yellow to violet



Pure vermillion and yellow-green will mix to a reddish-brown.








While yellow and purple combine to push brown into a different direction.









When he was in his 20's, Monet followed other painters who wanted to paint en plein air from Paris to the nearby Forest of Fontainebleau.

His studies of trees are the work of a young painter who already understands how to highlight a few pure colors with a wide range of mixed, neutralized hues--and who is also in love with nature.

There's a slash in the upper right of this canvas, which Monet probably made himself to keep a landlord from seizing the painting in lieu of unpaid rent.

Young Monet was often distraught and desperate for money, but you'd never know it from the calm beauty of these forest scenes.


When I'm in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, I always stop and take a long look at Monet's "Le Pave de Chailly in the Fontainbleau Forest", with its rows of brown-gold trees disappearing into a distant, mysterious grey-blue,

When Monet finally had enough money to settle at Giverny, he built gardens and ponds that became his favorite painting subjects.

How to paint this dark water, these colorful plants, and their reflections?

All the lessons of his forty years of constant painting, everything he had learned about dark and light, about complementary, mixed and pure colors, about brush gesture, was now put to the test.

Monet's water lily murals are the culmination of his vision, massive in concept and execution.

But even more than these masterworks, I like Monet's studies.

In these small paintings you can see his hand at work, mixing pigments directly on the canvas to beautiful effect.

And especially, all that wonderful brown murk...

You can see my post about Giverny here.

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