There are two types of art I wholeheartedly admire: the art of writing and the art of painting. I love how artists practicing these two disciplines fill blank canvasses with diverse forms of emotional creativity. Of course, there are other artists such as dancers and singers who actively use their bodies to convey art, which is just as admirable. However, for some reason, words and colors speak more to me than movement and sound.
Today, I would like to focus on painters and walk you through some of my favorite works by four of my cherished painters. I am by no means an art historian or expert, but merely an appreciator of art. Excuse my lack of jargon and knowledge, but please enjoy my awe.
Artist: Claude Monet
- Impressionism: an art style in which the artist paints an image the way someone would see it if they were to just catch a glimpse of it; painted with a lot of color; usually an outdoor scene; bright, vibrant, detailed, bold.
As mentioned in a previous article of mine on Paris , I truly am in love with Monet’s work. Claude Monet was a famous French painter. The cloth I use to wipe my glasses with is a picture of his Impression, soleil levant (1872), THE painting that inspired the name of the Impressionist movement. This painting mostly consists of various hues of blue, grey, and purple. The center of attention, however, is the bright orange sun, which is totally contrasted by the previously mentioned three colors. Every time I wipe my glasses I am reminded of experiencing this seemingly drug-induced dream of seeing this and other beautiful paintings at the Marmottan-Monet Museum in Paris.
What I find magical about Monet is exactly that: his use of color. He found magical shades of common colors that totally elevate the image he depicted. His color combinations are aesthetically pleasing to me. Something else I find fascinating are the visible brushstrokes. When you look closely at his work, you can see the direction in which the paint was put on the canvas. It’s not smooth, Monet did not try to fool you into thinking you’re looking at a picture rather than a painting, and I find that utterly charming. He created certain dynamics which are especially visible in Les Villas à Bordighera (1884). When I look at that painting, I can literally feel the garden move.
Of course, Monet is mostly known for his water lily paintings. I find it amazing how this man was capable of capturing these seemingly plain flowers numerous times in different shapes and colors and backgrounds. Looking at any of Monet’s depictions of water lilies gives me peace. He managed to incorporate tranquility in these paintings, and I think that is both magical and impressive. I remember seeing one of his bigger paintings at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and feeling so happy and blissful. Just the thought of someone being capable of painting something as magnificent as that version of Water Lilies (1914-26) amazes me. I don’t think I will ever grow tired of looking at any one of his over two hundred water lily paintings and I dare even say it is one of my dreams to see them all.
Artist: Gustav Klimt
- Symbolism: both an art and literary movement that suggests ideas through the use of symbols and the meaning behind forms, lines, shapes and colors; expressed differently by different artists.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter famously known for The Kiss (1907-8), which is a depiction of a couple embracing each other. When you look at the painting, you can see how the lovers are entwined. The most prominent features of this painting are the use of gold and the elaborate robes they are wearing. This same style of painting is evident in Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1903-7), another one of his more famous works. To me, both of these paintings give off this rich feeling because of the use of gold, but the paintings also convey vivid stories. I also love the square and rectangle and circular patterns evident in both paintings, which of course is a symbolic movement characteristic. Klimt, to me, fully embodied this technique.
Over the summer I went to Vienna and I could not skip out on visiting the Leopold Museum. I happened to visit the museum right when they had an exhibition of Klimt on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death. Ironically enough, this was also when I fell in love with his Death and Life (1915), which is similar in its style to both previously mentioned paintings, but has such a different effect on you when you look at it. This painting in particular has contrasting colors and symbols which perfectly convey the different feelings of death and life: death is bleak and dark and static with mainly crosses depicted on its robe, while life is vivid and colorful and dynamic with an array of different symbols surrounding the people. It is wonderful how this difference is captured in this painting.
As a sucker for landscapes and nature, my ode to Gustav Klimt would not be complete without mentioning Litzlbergkeller am Attersee (1915-16) and Schönbrunner Schlosspark (1916). The brushstrokes are mesmerizing to look at. The variety of green Klimt has used in both of these paintings is actually prettier than all shades of green I have seen in reality. The composition of the bodies of water is so central and the reflections painted in those bodies of water are magnificently perfect. These are two paintings you have to see in real life in order to be able to fully appreciate them. I am so happy I have had the opportunity to see both of them, as they truly are two of my favorite paintings.
Artist: Henri Matisse
- Fauvism: an art movement that emerged from Impressionism; main emphasis on the use, power, and influence of intense colors; colors communicate the artist’s emotional state and are a vehicle for describing light and space.
Where Claude Monet was the father of Impressionism, Henri Matisse (also French) was the father of Fauvism. A Matisse that most people are most likely to know is Dance (I) (1909), a painting of five people dancing in a circle. This is a fairly big but also fairly simple painting that was actually an earlier version of the darker Dance II (1910). The latter depicts these five people in more details and has, as implied, a darker color scheme. These two paintings mark an important moment within art history, but they do not mark what Matisse is about for me.
I have pretty much made clear that there are two elements within paintings that really appeal to me: colors and landscapes. Now, Matisse to me is that painter who made me appreciate the depiction of women. When I saw Odalisque (1920-21) at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam a couple of months ago, I was unable to walk away from her. Of course, the soft colors of the painting really moved my heart, but the central female figure of the painting sucked me in. The somewhat messy outline of her body, her sleeping pose and her peaceful face made me feel like I was intruding on her privacy by looking at her, which is weird if you think about it. This work of art, to me, is very serene.
There are many early works by Matisse that I am longing to admire in real life but have not been able to yet. I have been fascinated by his still life work for a while now. Favorites include Still Life with Oranges II (1899) and Still Life with Vegetables (1905). In my opinion, the charm of these two works is how the depicted produce and porcelain are contrasted and evolved throughout a short period of 6 years. Unfortunately, these two paintings are not exhibited anywhere near each other, so it might take me a while to be able to admire both of them in real life.
Artist: Oskar Kokoschka
- Expressionism: an art style that encouraged the distortion of all shapes and forms; depiction of subjective emotions rather than objective reality; use of strong colors to convey a variety of emotions such as fear, anxiety, and yearning.
Oskar Kokoschka intrigued me when I first saw his work at the Albertina in Vienna. His usage of colors made me look more into his work and discover beautiful pieces such as his View of Constantinople (1929). The beautiful soft shades of blue contrasted to the darker hues of the city gives a picture of Constantinople I have never seen before. Kokoschka managed to depict the Hagia Sofia in a way where it is both central in the painting, but still blended in with the background. The muted greens and soft brushstrokes around the port area contrasted to the blue water adds dynamics to the painting. Kokoschka seems to take you back to this moment in time. It is magical how Kokoschka is able to suck you right in and visualize living in the past.
That is what Kokoschka’s cityscapes do to me, they transport me from whatever museum I’m at to whatever city he is depicting. It does not matter whether his work is soft, light and pale or bold, dark and rich. Kokoschka knows how to make both ends of the spectrum work and draws you into this new world. View of Prague (1934) is the perfect example of a more anxious painting. The colors themselves are darker, the brushstrokes are bolder, and the composition is more swarmed. There seems to be a lot more going on in this painting, as the hurdled buildings make you feel like something is closing in on you. To me, this is a somber painting that evokes negative emotions, but still captures the essence of old Prague.
Besides cityscapes, Kokoschka is also known for doing portraits. Mother and Child (1921) and Self-portrait of a ‘Degenerate Artist’ (1937) are exquisite examples. Both works include people portrayed in the middle of the canvas with cool-toned colors in the background. What makes these portraits special is the technique used to paint them. Kokoschka does not blend his colors and leaves patches of different shades on the human subjects, highlighting certain facial features while still creating perspective. I think this makes his depicted humans look less polished and less perfect, while still making them unique and central to the piece.
So, why these four men?
Well, this is my small ode to two French and two Austrian painters. I am immensely attracted to the creations of these specific artists, because I vividly feel the emotions they convey with their work. Their color palates and painting techniques almost hypnotize me. A certain type of excitement flows through my body every time I visit a museum and see they have a painting by one of these artists in their collection. Consequently, a serene feeling dawns upon me when I actually get to see their art. I will always be on the hunt for more paintings by Monet, Klimt, Matisse, and Kokoschka (but also other wonderful artists) to drool on in real life. Until then, however, I’ll stick to my art-blog  collection to scroll through.