Abstract Expressionism

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Monet’s Water Lilies and Abstract Expressionism

During the course of Claude Monet’s life, his artwork constantly changed and evolved. From his earliest work as a caricaturist, to his plein air Impressionist paintings, to his abstract water lilies that he refined in the studio, Monet constantly challenged Europe’s salon-driven art world. Painting during the outbreak of World War I, Monet continued to concentrate on atmospheric effects, using darker colors and more aggressive brushstrokes to create paintings that were very different from his earlier works. Monet’s movement toward abstraction, particularly evident in his late works of the 1920s, reflects his concentration on color harmonies, surface qualities, and dissolved forms. It has therefore been argued that Monet’s late work was really a brilliant first attempt at Abstract Expressionism.

The term Abstract Expressionism describes an art movement that originated in New York in the 1940s and ’50s. Abstract Expressionists created art works that varied in style from quiet, contemplative color field paintings to wild, dramatic compositions. The art movement is also sometimes referred to as “Action Painting”, a term which describes the active, physical process of creating the works. This practice is especially associated with artists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell, who frequently dripped, splashed and flung paint onto their oversized canvases. In addition to gesture, Abstract Expressionists also used layers of impasto to explore color and depth. Monet, too, used multiple layers of paint when composing Water Lilies. Contemporary artists took note of this and other modernist parallels in Monet’s work, which renewed interest in the artist by Americans in the 1950s. Accordingly, many additional works from Monet’s studio at Giverny were purchased by museums in the United States at this time.

Within the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection are several examples of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Many of these artists were directly or indirectly influenced by the work of Claude Monet, including Chicago-born Joan Mitchell. The color harmonies, size, brushstrokes, and impasto techniques utilized by these artists reveal the lasting effects of Monet and his late Water Lilies series.

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