Claude Monet, The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil [1880, oil on canvas]
Diego Rivera, Retrato de Adolfo Best Maugard (Portrait of Adolfo Best Maugard) [1913, oil on canvas]
With both paintings being set in France, the two works share similar elements in subject. Both artists have human subjects as the central focal point of their paintings. Both artists give a glimpse of life in France. That’s where the similarities end. Monet captures country living in a French village. He paints the simplistic beauty of a garden with his family as an anchor to the flow of colors and backdrop. Monet’s painting shows us how the garden is part of his home’s landscape. Rivera places his regally dressed subject standing in front of an industrial setting, complete with smoke and modern movements (trains, factories and Ferris wheel). From his details, you can definitely know that Rivera’s painting took place at a specific time period, from the subject’s clothes to the definite Parisian sightline. Monet’s painting could have taken place today. Rivera also places his subject above the action, giving the man an almost regal quality. Monet’s family is in the middle of the naturalistic setting…one with nature.
Subject matter aside, the artists' design qualities give more insight, with both painting having asymmetrical balance. Both paintings lack a coordinated focus on the central axis. There is a definitive linear quality to Rivera’s painting. Contour lines stand out in the subject’s stance. Color plays a pivotal role in conveying the mood of the paintings. Although Monet stays true to his surroundings, the artist does use liberal measures in deciding on his hues. Cool colors make up the most of the painting, with warm colors adding emphasis. The red and yellow choice offers accenting focuses on the flowers in the garden. The pink brings out the facial features of Monet’s family. There is also an evidence of analogous harmonies, with red-orange and blue-violet hues. There seems to be monochromatic harmonies illustrated in the Rivera painting. The red, blue and purple are rated similar on the color wheel. The visual relief to that is the use of gray and white in the background. To create the background, the artist employs the value scale of black and white, giving the needed contrast to create smoke and clouds. One area of contrast is emphasis and subordination. In the Rivera painting, the foreground carries the emphasis of the painting. The eyes are drawn to the hands of the model, the focal point. The action begins there and draws the eyes outward to the rest of the painting. In Monet’s painting, however, there are spots that have been deliberately downplayed to bring attention to the garden and the family. Rivera’s painting also plays on the part of scale/proportion. The model seems to be extremely tall, based on the background. It gives the perception of a giant overlooking a great fair given in his honor…as I mentioned early, like a king overlooking his subjects.
Whereas there are design similarities, the moods of both paintings are in direct contrast. In Monet’s work, the artist conveys a sense of calm and familiarity. The garden setting is tranquil. The flowers are swaying in the breeze. You can almost feel the warmth of the sun as you picture yourself standing next to his easel. Rivera’s work is constant movement, almost a controlled chaos that makes up a city setting. The Ferris wheel, the smoke wafting from the background and the metro train zooming past all bring a sense of metropolitan existence.
The choice of medium also plays part in setting the mood. Both works are oil paintings. But, each painting has a distinct look, thanks in large part to the different brush strokes and layer of paints used. Rivera’s brushstrokes are applied evenly and thin, invisible to the eye. Thanks to the slow-drying properties of oil, he was able to layer colors on top of one another. Rivera uses glazing to provide the layers of gray and white smoke over the thick earthtoned-inspired background. The image is the main part of the painting. The texture blends nicely and does not overpower the overall content. Monet’s technique is a study of contrast. The painter’s brushstrokes are visible. The uneven texture is a big part of the painting. In parts of the garden, he employs alla prima by using opaque colors on the white ground. Throughout the scene, Monet practices impasto, layering thick strokes of paint to the flowers and figures. As seen in other Impressionist painting, Monet’s work does include broken color instances. The long stems in the vases, for instance, are created by a series of varying oil colors, blending as you concentrate on them.
The artists' choice of oil is not the only common link, of course. Style can be a commonality between the two artists. Monet’s style is representational and very simplified. His painting shows the overall vision of the garden. But, Monet uses strokes to blend the separate images as one. Rivera’s work is naturalistic representational. We can recognize his interpretation of the scene. He stays true to the actual visual footprint, incorporating shadows and body types.
In their works, Monet and Rivera use the same techniques and methods to deliver unique images. Their paintings share mediums, style and subject points. They each cover French lifestyles and have the same symmetrical balance. But, the paintings have stark contrasts in social relevance (citylife vs. countrylife), moods (calm vs. hectic), and emphasis and subordination. I am glad I chose these two paintings because I learned more about the nuisances of art movements. Even though they were close in years, Monet’s French Impressionist paintings are different than Rivera’s Cubism works. I never really weighed those facets until this class. I have always enjoyed studying the free-flowing nature of French Impressionism. Now, I can appreciate the Cubist movement and understand that social undertones can sometimes dictate the painting’s creation.