Recently I’ve very much enjoyed painting water, this has been an interest of many other painters throughout history.
Painting outside one finds most effects are fleeting and you can find yourself chasing effects…this could go on forever and generally you would hope to have some idea of an outcome before starting a plein-air project, but with water nothing is quite similar from moment to moment and the idea itself is hard to come to.
What follows are some my own attempts and the attempts of the painters who’ve influenced me.
You can see how impressive Thaulow’s pictures are on a technical level, he uses photographic aids which for me give the water a slightly static feel, things look a little cut out…his work, that I like and admire greatly for its skill, never gives me enough of a feeling of movement.
The caveat here is I’ve never seen a Fritz Thaulow in the flesh, this is only the sense I get from reproductions; I feel he is overly interested in one static snapshot of the element.
He captures the hue and temperature changes very well, also his simple selection of values brings the whole picture together.
Claude Monet: 1840-1926
Here Monet’s really grasping the effect of water, though maybe not quite as technically impressive as the Thaulow, one can imagine being on the bank of the river – of course this feeling may be because I’ve seen many Monets in galleries and have responded to them; though I really think there’s something coming through that I’m not getting from Thaulow, an emotional response to the effect, the pictures seem to be a composite of many moments sitting watching water, long walks in the countryside or in his own garden.
Similar to Thaulow, Sorolla also used some photographic aids though with the Spaniard’s work one feels like there’s less of a reliance on them; also his frequent use of figures interacting with the water gives his work joyous and human feel.
His use of thick paint, which could break the illusion in a less skilled painter’s hands, works well here. Sorolla was known for painting quite fast, and he also used a wide pallet, most of the other painters I’ve mentioned used approximately 7 colours or less, he used around 14.
The wonderfully skilled Sargent: most of his studies at painting water were done on breaks from the enormous amount of portrait commissions he was obliged to undertake, these paintings done on holiday are some of my favourite by the artist because I feel that he was painting more for himself. With many of his portraits there’s a very beautiful and clever style deployed ( this was wise for the important clients he painted and the sheer number to be flattered). Similar to Sorolla, Sargent had a very liberal use of paint.
I love the playfulness he shows and the feeling of wetness imbued to conveying the element.
The picture shows a quite still water effect with a slightly more rippled effect from a small breeze that came across from right to left; also the catch of light hitting the tops of the ripples were added later, so you could say that there’s three quite similar but varying effects used. My over all goal was not to capture a still moment, that comes more when one relies on photographic aids, as I don’t use them I select moments caught from multiple passes all done at a similar time of day.
Similar to the last, but more quickly done. I loved painting the reflection of this model, how the reflections simplify the feature although you still get an idea of how she holds herself and even a small likeness.
Maybe a little too much green in this picture. I allowed the end of brush to play a little here by loosening my wrist. How I have cropped, designed and painted this picture also make it look like a slight abstraction.
“Water Lilies’ is an extension of my life. Without the water the lilies cannot live, as I am without art.”
“I could not paint at all if I had to paint slowly. Every effect is so transient, it must be rapidly painted.”
‘Impressionism’ was the name given to a certain form of observation when Monet, not content with using his eyes to see what things were or what they looked like as everybody had done before him, turned his attention to noting what took place on his own retina (as an oculist would test his own vision).
John Singer Sargent