Green Park, London as a “New Painting”Based in nature and present observation, Monet’s Green Park, London offers a true moment-in-life snapshot. Breaking away from the traditional, formulaic, and unrealistic paintings of the past or the Ecole des Beaux Arts, this work embodies what it means to be “wholly modern… imbued with our surroundings, our sentiments, and the things of our age.” (Duranty, 40). In this vein, Green Park, London is reflective of the endeavour to go beyond the studio in order to capture the realities of contemporary life and immerse itself in plein-air practice.
While Duranty loosely engages with a broad scope of “The New Painting”, there are certain elements this work illuminates. The composition and techniques depicted in Green Park, London in particular speak to an unbounded perspective, the momentariness of in situ painting, and the unconventional diffusion of light. Everything is depicted in the barest of forms and is most involved with the essence of being. The narrative very much belongs to the object of the painting and is not imbued by the artist or even traditions’ idealisations. It is in this ephemeral and arbitrary depiction of the park as it is, unencumbered by the conventional excellence of the past, that Duranty would characterise it as “The New Painting” (Duranty, 37). In painting a sliver of contemporary life, this necessitates a style that is observational rather than imaginative. This need is evident in the lack of embellished details, an absence of what Duranty terms “artifice” (Duranty, 38).
The outside viewpoint, sensation of fleetingness, and unfocused light of Green Park, London ultimately seek a truth that is so unblemished and in the moment that it presents the most accurate condition. Just as Monet is submerged into the atmosphere of the park, the viewer is also immediately thrusted into the public space as the scene of Green Park, London comes to life. The viewer is greeted with a sprawling green lawn filled by fortuitous broad strokes of grass and proportionately sized figures effortlessly dotted across the park going about their afternoon. Muted mauve-grey leaved trees follow a sandy path down the right side of the painting, the trees gradually moving out of focus before blending into an almost indistinguishable mass of bushes shaded in a similar colour palette to the city of London that abruptly peeks out from behind them. It is an urban landscape that deviates from a manicured, well-defined space in a way that the very act of being outside results in a real life view in which the “vantage point is not always located in the centre… [and] the lines of sight and angles of cornices do not always join with mathematical regularity and symmetry.” (Duranty, 45).
The rows of trees that flank the lawn on either side haphazardly make up an off-balanced convergence at an imperfect centre of the canvas, accentuated by the awkward angular meeting of the two pathways. In its sketchiness and novel composition, the painting goes against the traditions of perfect placement and deliberation. It almost “lack[s] a feel for the structure of the land itself” (Duranty, 45) resulting in the way the trees are huddled in a specific manner and the hill is slightly lopsided. Yet this embrace of nature’s irregularities offers a momentary and original compositional perspective that reinterprets the role of the ‘window frame’ in viewing the world into one that takes into account every possible observation.
The focal point is panoramic instead of figural to the extent that viewer is shown Green Park, London in its essence rather than Green Park, London in relation to something else. In placing the perspective inside the park itself and removed from the atelier, Monet provides a more logical and true depiction. In the carefree brushstrokes and dynamic perspective is a presentation of the fleeting moment that reveal an “acuity of observation, as well as the most delicate and intense feeling” (Duranty, 46).
This acuity of observation conveyed as a transient image is not merely a stylistic choice but a deliberate act of painting from a reaction in a manner where to “capture the modern spirit” is to “react viscerally to the spectacle of…contemporary life” (Duranty, 39). To begin with, this notion is reflected in the figures in the painting, discernible by the most minimal of outlines yet also by their clothes. They are captured in haste with an unwillingness to sacrifice their current ordinary actions, such as having a picnic or walking their dog, for a more detailed illustration; this to the extent that the people in the background are represented by a tiny vertical singular splotch of a brushstroke on the canvas, immersing themselves into the textuality of the scene .
The sentiment is further reflected in the two gentlemen on the far right of the painting, depicted in a half lying down position that is awkward and stiff yet unapologetically represented with regard to the fact that that was presumably how they were actually positioned at that very moment. In an effort to capture modern life, however, Monet still clearly shines importance of the characters’ garments with men wearing top-hats and coats, and women dressed in various billowing skirts of what can only assumed to have been the latest fashions. While the simplistic daubs shy away from a composition that is conventionally structured, the painting moves toward a structure that reflects a logical realism. For example, the slate grey sky is further compounded by the presence of the figures in the open field rather than the shade where a sunnier day would find them. With an emphasis on the imperfect whole over the embellished details of the constituent parts, the “fundamental idea gains sharpness of focus” (Duranty, 43).
Communicated within the sacrifice of formulaic structuring in favour of in the moment observation is an occupation with the “cause and idea” (Duranty, 42) of the “New Painting” movement. This new perspective is unconcerned with how deliberate lines can artificially direct the viewers gaze but focuses instead on what the viewer sees in totality, bringing about a prominence in the fleeting moment. This is to the effect that while imperfect prima facie, the painting is uninhibited by conventional perspectives and allowed to encapsulate the present and sincere sensations of Green Park, London.Further defining itself as a “New Painting”, within Green Park, London there exists no disingenuine chiaroscuro lighting that Duranty mentions as prominent in academic tradition of painting. Rather, as the artist moves out into the open, the laws of light and observation take on inspiration from those “who live in the perpetual daze of the sun… to render the sensation…of its luminous quality distributed almost equally everywhere” (Duranty, 43).
The light of the landscape is subsequently treated without any angular or focused rays but instead is diffused and relatively indiscriminate, remaining truer to the plein-air style. The sky is illustrated through an interwoven layering of varying shades of misty grey, a darker bluish slate tint lining the top and specks of off-white hanging just above the city. The brushstrokes of this palette of colours are fluid throughout the piece yet enunciated, evoking the movement of the fog while simultaneously integrating itself into the mood representative of a gloomy London afternoon.
The colours of the buildings then respond to this soft, ubiquitous light in greyish blue hues so complimentary to the sky that it implies the condensing of temporality to capture a specific, singular moment. In this, there is a realisation that strong light mitigates colour and that sunlight reflected by objects reunifies this light providing the “relations between forms.” (Duranty, 43). Monet uses the colours of objects to craft a harmony of light that emphasises the presence of natural light despite the obvious source of light being obscured. What results is a landscape that consists of distributed and diffused luminescence that aspires toward an unblemished and faithful approach to nature “proceed[ed] by intuition” (Duranty, 42).
In his bold deviation from academic painting tradition, Monet’s novel composition and techniques in Green Park, London, evoke an organic and intuitive sensation of a moment in the park. That is, he paints a contemporary image is to be free from the structure in which one would have been bounded to in the past. As such, while the painting may seem imperfect compared to the aesthetically hyper-realistic Romantic movement, it is a dedication to the truest and most sincere depiction of modern life. It is nothing more or less than a removal of the shackles of convention, idealisation, and tradition that bind the image of the present to the art of the past.
Monet, Claude. Green Park, London. 1870/1871. Oil on canvas. 34.3 x 72.5 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.