Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Weeping Willow, 1918. Oil on canvas. 51 5/8 x 43 7/16 in. (131 x 110.3 cm).
It’s texture is not confined to the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. Even the fact that Monet worked with peaceful—textbook peaceful, I mean—doesn’t mean that he, in any way, lessened their emotional impact on the viewer. It almost feels too intimate. These were his gardens. At the end of his life, he decided to create his best work at a place he loved. And the love he had for the nature he saw everyday, and the dance of light and color through leaves and off of the water could only be as powerfully represented as they are here by someone who was in love.
The are areas of pink and orange on the trunk of the weeping willow call the eye to the left side of the painting, balancing out the chaos of the tangle of green and yellow of the leaves and branches where the eye can easily become lost. The application of purple and dark blue oil to the lower left portion of the canvas (the part that is closest to the picture plane) is much heavier than that of the branches and leaves. Although there is almost a completely central light coming from above, that corner is almost completely in shadow—that is accentuated by the almost exclusive use and layering of dark hues (this is really the only placed in which they are so boldly employed).
This isn’t simply an application of paint. This is molding and carving out a very real, three-dimensional place. The layered-sweeping gestures that make up the leaves gives them weight, but does not make them heavy.
Was he trying to share the peace he found in his gardens with a mourning country? The secluded place that was his own…he could only understand that beauty and peace through capturing it on canvas; a camera would never do. A camera would miss the soft wind and the way the light played in the leaves as the garden moved into the afternoon of a summer’s day.
Could this be a love letter from an old, broken-hearted man to the country he loved in the wake of a devastating war (he signed the painting the day after the Armistice was signed in 1918)? This, to me, was his bouquet of roses—to take the pain of a war and translate it into a lamentation of color and light. This doesn’t mean that there should be no room given to grieve—there should always be that space, but there should also be light and hope at the end of the war. Too many boys in the trenches did not live to see the spring. He offered this painting like he would a glass of wine…a toast to those lost. Beauty in the vacuum of post-war France. The colors do not hide the pain. Rather, I think that they acknowledge a sorrow that transcends the landscape—areas of dark and light that dance and move the viewer throughout the painting without hindering the experience of it. The brushstrokes move with the eye: a lead in the waltz with Monet himself.