Tag Archives: green

John Singer Sargent: Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife

19 Apr

John Singer Sargent, Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife, 1889

I discovered this gem of a painting two months ago but I decided to save it for April because plein air paintings with such lush greenness just scream April and springtime to me. The man with a straw hat, long sharp nose and a beard is the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul César Helleu. His canvas sits in the grass, framed by noisy blades of grass. The long thin fingers of his right hand are not so dissimilar to the brushes he is holding in his left arm, and if you look at it closely, you will see that the brush is nothing more than a stroke of paint, confident and carefree. Whatever he is painting, and it must be the nature that is in front of him, is it for sure keeping him completely absorbed. Behind him, in the shadow of this great artist, is a seemingly disinterested auburn haired woman with greyish complexion; that is Helleu’s wife Alice Guérin.

The couple met in 1884 when Helleu was commissioned to paint a portrait of this graceful young lady with long red hair. They quickly fell in love and married two years later, on 28 July 1886 when she was sixteen years old and he was twenty-six. She was his favourite model, but in this painting painted by Helleu’s life-long friend John Singer Sargent, she is sitting wistfully in the grass behind him; lost in daydreams, listening to birds or just following a butterfly in its flight with her eyes. He seems so stern and so absorbed in his work, I wonder: was she bored just sitting there useless, like a captive bird, dressed in an almost matching grey jacket to that of her beloved husband? Or did she enjoy being his passive companion? Or perhaps he just seems serious, but we don’t see the jokes he might have cracked or smiles he might have sent to her in times of  little painting breaks. One thing I do know for sure: the grass in this painting is something out of this world! In so many different shades of green, from the proper grass green to being and brown tones… it is a joy to soak my eyes in this greenness! Sensuality of nature comes through in these colours. Every blade of grass has a unique life of its own. This isn’t some neat, tamed lawn, no, this is a sweetly wild grass that grows on its own accord, without man’s laws.

Bellow you can see a similar painting that John Singer Sargent painted four years before the Helleu one, and in this painting it’s the famous Impressionist Claude Monet who is shown painting plein air on the edge of the wood. Sargent sort of strikes me as a voyeur of a sort… I know that they knew they were being painted but still, it seems that Sargent was quick to capture them in their pursuit.

John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of the Wood, 1885

Theodore Butler: Lili Butler in Claude Monet’s Garden

7 Apr

“Some long-forgot, enchanted, strange, sweet garden of a thousand years ago…”

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Interim“)

Theodore Earl Butler, Lili Butler in Claude Monet’s Garden, 1911, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 81.3 cm (32 x 32 in.)

This magical garden scene inspired me for the ending of my newest story, and whenever I gaze at it, even for a few seconds, I instantly hear the first sounds of Claude Debussy’s “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp” (1915). At once I am transported into the realm of dreams, I am threading the paths of a garden in bloom, stepping through the soft grass and hearing the distant mingled murmurs of many flowers. Sweet fragrance of the lilac tree hangs in the air like a cloud. In a dream, the flowers speak in a language I can understand. The tales they tale, I dare not repeat. I am only in this magical garden as long as the music lasts, I can only observe but never truly belong; listen but not speak, see but not be seen. The girl in white in the painting is Lili, Butler’s daughter, seventeen years old at the time. but Lili is trapped there forever, and she doesn’t mind it at all. The roses told me so. Lili lives in a dream and all the flowers bloom just for her. In the sea of intense greenness, woven with white, painted all in short quick brushstrokes and dots, the whiteness of her figure stands out. I love the curvy, S-silhouette of her body against the green background. She seems to be picking a flowers, roses perhaps. Her hair is brown, but if you take a better look, you’ll notice it’s painted in a really deep nocturnal blue, which also appears in the grass growing around her feet. The dreamy, magical mood of this garden scene reminds me of John Singer Sargent’s painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”. Everything is so mysterious and lively in Lili’s dream garden. Every little detail here, every blade of grass and every flower look like they are flickering and bursting with excitement.

Turn around Lili, so I may see your face! Oh, please! Let me come closer so I can see your pretty white dress. I saw your white hair ribbon, do you know? It fell on a lotus flower in the pond, it must have been when you were crossing the bridge down by the weeping willow tree. Lili? Lili! …. Oh, I am afraid I cannot tell you more, for the music is fading and with it the garden’s magic is slowly disappearing for me. The greenness takes on paler shades, Lili’s figure is blurrier and I don’t feel the soft grass under my feet anymore. Flute is in the air no more, the harp’s strings are silent too… In the last seconds, Lili turned around and said that I cannot stay there because it is her magical garden, and I must find my own. And again I am in my room, the air is stale and heavy from memories, but infused with sweet scent of hopes. The afternoon is rainy and the skies are dark and low.

Monet’s garden, Giverny, France by Rick Ligthelm.

Butler was an American painter who first studied in New York City at a progressive art school Art Students League, and then, in 1885, like many American artists, he came to Europe, Paris to be more precise: the place to be for an artist. In 1888 he was fortunate enough to meet Claude Monet in his famous splendid gardens in Giverny. Meeting Monet changed two things in Butler’s life; firstly, he started painting garden scenes, or outdoor scenes, with lose brushstrokes and vibrant colour, and secondly, he met and married Suzanne Hoschedé in 1892, one of Monet’s stepdaughters and his favourite model who posed for the lovely painting “The Girl with the Parasol”. The couple had two children; Jimmy, born in 1893, and Lili, born in 1894, but sadly Suzanne died in 1899. Butler travelled to New York City to cure his sad heart, and six months later, in 1900, he married Suzanne’s younger sister Marthe who helped take care of his children. Although initially inspired by Monet, Butler developed his own style which is just a continuation of Impressionism. Flatness and vibrant colours are more similar to the works of Vuillard and Bonnet.

Claude Monet – Ode to Water Lilies

28 Mar

I am following Nature without being able to grasp her… I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.

1915. Water Lilies (fr.Nymphéas) - Claude MonetClaude Monet, Water Lilies (fr.Nymphéas), 1915

Surface of the pond is flickering in mystic blue and dreamy green shades, flickering gently as if it was a garment woven from blue topaz and emerald gemstones. These opulent jewel colours could only be compared to the magical silks and velvets that Paul Poiret used in his lavishing, oriental designs. Perhaps the same muse seduced both artists – a muse called ‘Nymphaea’ or ‘Water Lily’. Perchance it’s not a coincidence that these beautiful flowers share a name with Greek divine spirits – Nymphs; nude beauties observed by the Greek god of the wild – Pan. The pond is rustling a silver watery hymn, while the blades of grass, resembling long peridot-green locks of hair, are humming the sweetest notes of spring. Cerulean blue surface, slippery like silk petticoats of a duchess. Rhythmical water rippling. Quiet and deep mystic waters resonate with musical tunes.

Petal by petal, lush white flowers are awakening, their whiteness encrusted with amethyst pink tulle-like skirts. Water lilies are breathing the vivacious air, and exhaling the luscious flowery scents, their petals rustling like delicate silks of Paul Poiret’s divine oriental dresses. Sapphire blue leaves are emerging from the water like dozens of eyes. Sweet scents are pervading the air of this mystical haven. Every brushstroke reveals Monet’s enchantment with his Water Lilies, and the impossibility of discovering their secrets. For Monet, it seems, they were more than just flowers, but muses whose silent whispers he interpreted as invitations to paint them, in the same way he would paint an extravagant woman. And he always satisfied their vanity.

He painted them in all occasions: in morning freshness, just waken up and sleepy. In all their glory of colours when the sun of June hits their petals with its shine. He painted them distressed by the raindrops. Fragile and pale, flickering, in the morning dew. In the evening gatherings when the moon slowly appears in the sky, and they crowd round in the middle of the pond, sitting on their leaves like noblewomen of Venice in their gondolas, instead of masks their faces covered with the veil of night. He painted them surrounded by mystic purple waters, their petals like silvery veils, luscious white flowers resembling Ophelia’s white dress spread on the water in the last moment.

Due to their seductive beauty, it’s hard to tell whether these water lilies are indeed pure botanical creatures or real Nymphs, transformed by some strange spell into static flowers; sleeping beauties on the water. In 1896,  J.W. Waterhouse painted the scene of poor Hylas being abducted by the Nymphs; he portrayed Hylas as powerless against the charms of the Nymphs, and Monet did a similar thing. The massive amount of Monet’s Water Lily scenes serves as an evidence of his lifelong fascination with these serene flowers.

I hope you enjoyed the lyrical mood of this post.