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Group: Modern Life Modern Vision
Artist: Claude MONET
Title: A cart on the snowy road at Honfleur
Date Made: 1865
Lender: Musé d'Orsay, Paris
Credit Line: Gift of Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911
A cart on the snowy road at Honfleur shows how Monet was integrating what he had learnt from Japanese art into his intensive observation of a specific scene. In this instance he made use of prints depicting snow scenes to help him represent the luminous brilliance of a snow-covered landscape: for example, Hiroshige’s Ochanomizu and Clear weather after snow at Kameyama. Oil painting had generally represented such luminosity by intensifying the contrast between dark objects and light snow; Japanese prints give the effect of bright light reflecting off snow because they were printed with translucent coloured inks on light paper. Hiroshige’s snow scenes are printed in scales of tinted whites, dark steely greys to almost transparent blue-greys, cold blue water, and touches of warm colours in red branches, yellow hats, and sometimes orange-gold tinted sky. Monet composed his work with densely material, opaque oil paints, using similar scales from white through transparent violets to violet-greys and blue-greys; his sky too is delicately tinged with yellows and warm greys that heighten the sensation of coldness.
The picture surface of A cart on the snowy road at Honfleur is composed from a number of triangular wedges that draw the eye into deep space. Here the patterns of snow-laden branches silhouetted against the sky block the vanishing point, as they do in Hiroshige’s Ochanomizu. The ruts in the snow and the narrow stream also show how Monet used the abstraction of Japanese prints as an alternative naturalistic detail. The stream does not glisten or reflect as frozen water would; it is emphatically paint, just as the river in Ochanomizu is a flat plane of blue. Through studying his prints Monet realised that painting could most effectively evoke atmospheric effects if it avoided imitation and relied on the spectator’s ability to interpret abbreviated signs from their relationships to the whole.
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