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Monet's Encore
Success is a wonderful thing. Regardless of how we define it, it is the ultimate goal of every artist. Whether it's a single, successful painting, or a whole series of paintings, or an entire art movement, success is sweet. Amazingly, though, it also has a downside. As Michelangelo discovered in painting his Last Judgement, "what do you do for an encore?" is a very real problem. Success means that to fail in the next endeavour makes the long fall to the bottom, from the lofty heights of that success all the more traumatic. For some artists, just the fear of that precipitous fall means a dead end to their careers. Even for artists who merely continue doing that which brought them their initial success, the challenge is quite difficult. Especially in art, the public tires of success after what is often a surprisingly short time. The mark of greatness in a painter is continued success, often against all odds. Claude Monet bears that mark of greatness.

Monet's struggles with poverty as he and others gave birth to Impressionism, then nurtured it to maturity and acceptance, are legendary. However by the 1890s, he could bask in the financial success and critical acclaim his tireless efforts had brought him. The only problem was, the Impressionist art movement, like the living things its artists often painted, had begun to wither. One by one, Impressionist painters moved on, quite often to even greater success. Monet, however, didn't. More than any other artist, he considered Impressionism to be his, and with the creative freedom that comes with financial success, he took personal possession of it, perhaps because no one else seemed to want it. Stories abound of his loading a carriage full of dozens of unfinished canvases, then journeying to a favourite painting location to work on each one a few minutes when the light was just right. Whether painting streams, trees, haystacks, or cathedrals, Monet seemed out to systematically prove that Impressionism was not a worked-over mother lode but a deep well from which the dedicated artist could forever draw forth a refreshing wealth of incredible beauty.

By the turn of the century, Monet was 60 years old. Already he'd single-handedly extended the life of Impressionism by an amazing ten years or more. But let's face it, even if you're Claude Monet, there are only so many cathedrals and haystacks you can paint before exhausting the subject matter. Comfortably ensconced in his country home a Giverney, in what for most men would be their "declining years," he could have rested on his laurels, though seldom is retirement an option for any painter so long as he can see and still hold a paintbrush (both of which became increasingly painful challenges as the years went by). Instead he picked up on a thread that had always fascinated him in his art--water. First in his gardens, he poured his financial resources into creating an aquatic paradise. Then he poured his talent and waning energies into re-creating its subtle beauty on canvas. Traditional shorelines disappeared as he peered deep into the water and the plant life that floated upon it. His enormous canvases spread deep and wide with luscious, cool, liquid colour, incredibly turned out to be his best work ever. It was an encore to success even more successful than the success itself.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
1 August 1999


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