Interpretive Resource

Claude Monet's Iris, 1922/26

Discussion questions and activities for Monet's Post-Impressionist painting that borders on abstraction.

Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Education Department: Teacher Programs. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995, p. 133-135.

Iris, c.1922-26
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 79 1/8 in. (200 x 201 cm)
Discussion
How is Iris more Post-Impressionist than Impressionist in character? How does this painting reveal Monet’s perception of his iris garden? (It conveys a mood more than a realistic depiction.) How many objects can be identified? Is Iris almost abstract (art that does not represent recognizable objects)?

In the early 1900s Monet began to experiment with scale in an unprecedented way. He was no longer interested in painting in series, but rather in creating immense, unified decorations. How does the size of this painting challenge the Impressionist ideas of spontaneity? (It takes longer to complete, and therefore captures more than a "moment." The larger canvas compels one to use larger brushstrokes and more paint.)

Many of the canvases he produced during this time are principally the result of memory and his determination to create hazy, indistinct visual sensations. "I have rediscovered the powers of intuition and allowed them to dominate," Monet once said. Sadly, he did not live to complete Iris. In 1926, at the time of his death, the painting remained unfinished in his studio. How can you tell it is unfinished? Or can you?
Activities

1. Compare and constrast On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt from 1868 to Iris, c. 1922-26. Compare the dimensions of each painting. Describe the times of day or seasons. Can you find the horizon line in both paintings? The exclusion of the horizon line and its fusion with reflections give a sense of an all-pervasive atmosphere. Locate the reflections of light, mist, sun-streaked leaves, clouds and sky. What colors did Monet use in each work to show reflective water? How has his palette become limited and darker in Iris? Divide students into pairs and assign each pair a section of one of the paintings. Sectioning of the paintings can be accomplished by using paper frames. To make a paper frame, cut a square in the center of a piece of paper. While looking through the frame, students can observe their seciton and examine color harmonies (purple/yellow; red/green; orange/blue).

2. One of the pleasures of looking at a painting directly is being able to see the brushwork. On a field trip to the museum, carefully examine Iris. The subtle strokes of paint that were an important part of earlier Impressionist painting are gone. Monet used a lively and textured hadling of dense paint that renders an expression of life rather than a literal depiction of a particular moment. Examine where the paint has been thinly and thickly applied.

Activities

1. Compare and contrast On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt from 1868 to Iris, c.1922-26. Compare the dimensions of each painting. Describe the times of day or seasons. Can you find the horizon line in both paintings? The exclusion of the horizon line and its fusion with reflections give a sense of an all-pervasive atmosphere. Locate the reflections of light, mist, sun-streaked leaves, clouds and sky.
What colors did Monet use in each work to show reflective water? How has his palette become limited and darker in Iris?
Divide students into pairs and assign each pair a section of one of the paintings. Sectioning of the paintings can be accomplished by using paper frames. To make a paper frame, cut a square in the center of a piece of paper. While looking through the frame, students can observe their section and examine color harmonies (purple/yellow; red/green; orange/blue).

2. Monet used a limited number, but extensive range, of colors when he painted Iris. Experiment with mixing colors in paint. Try creating ranges of secondary colors by mixing two primary colors. Primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. Secondary colors are created when blending any two primary colors. The two colors mixed together can produce many versions of the third color. Mix a range of three or four secondary colors on a small scrap of posterboard. For example, begin with a dot of blue and add one dot of yellow and blend. Take another dot of blue but add two dots of yellow and blend. Add three dots of yellow to the third dot of blue and continue until you have three or four secondary colors in the green range. The results could be blue-green, green, green-yellow, yellow-green. Painters use the lighter tints for highlights and darker for areas in shadow.

3. One of the pleasures of looking at a painting directly is being able to see the brushwork. On a field trip to the museum, carefully examine Iris. The subtle strokes of paint that were an important part of earlier Impressionist painting are gone. Monet used a lively and textured handling of dense paint that renders an expression of life rather than a literal depiction of a particular moment. Examine where the paint has been thinly and thickly applied.

In the classroom, experiment with brushwork by using two different painting methods. On a sheet of paper, paint plants, trees, or other aspects of a landscape. The first version can be small in scale and painted with short, quick brushstrokes and scant amounts of paint (Monet’s earlier style). A second, larger version can be painted with a larger brush, longer sweeping strokes, and a thicker amount of paint per stroke (Monet’s later style). Display and discuss the results.

4. As he grew older, Monet combined earlier concerns with light and reflections with an increasing need to express his feelings and experiences. He once said that when one is looking, one should try to forget the object and recognize the square of blue, or the oblong of pink, or the streak of yellow and paint from these.

Monet’s late work had a significant influence on the development of abstract art. The Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky was one of the younger artists inspired by the aging master. After seeing an exhibition of Monet’s painting in 1895, Kandinsky said that the "...object was discredited as an indispensable element of the picture." What did he mean by that statement?

Research the work of Kandinsky, or any other early modern painter whose work "discredited the object." Compare the selected painting to any of Monet’s late works. [See Janson and Janson, History of Art for Young People, 1992.]

Impressionism, landscapes, water
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