Claude Monet’s painting “Étretat: The Beach and the Falaise d’Amont” which hangs in the galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago is a masterpiece of French Impressionism. The scene of this famous Norman coast is one that lingers on with you long after you step away.
The focus of the painting is the large arched rock that extends from the mountainous bluff on the right. As heavy and massive as this rock formation is the scene is light and airy. The horizon line is just above the center of the painting so as to keep the balance of the painting on foreground where there are boats along the seashore. The are no figures in the painting and the only living thing is the painting are the (would be) people manning the small craft in the water.
The beach recedes back to the right and makes a bow from the bottom of the painting up to the extended rock above. The curve on the beach is used to place the boats because it tucks them neatly into the scene without dominating it. The cumulus clouds in the sky are hardy and give a fresh air to the piece. The extended rock formation that is below the clouds is the brightest spot in the painting and the subject of it. The bluff to the right is vigorously rendered with firm stokes of color from the artist’s brush, further, the artist has organized the cluster of boats together at the lower portion of the beach so as to keep the sand clear to make a visual support for the mountain.
The use of color is exquisite, Monet, has made the turquoise-blue the dominant tone in the painting and this tone can even be seen in the sand on the beach. The refection of the extended bluff flickers gently in the water below giving life to the painting. When you look closely at the water you will note that it is at it’s deepest blue on the horizon line and to the left. Whereas when the water hits the reflecting bluff it takes on a turquoise tone. However, these tones are ever-present at all places in the water and only toned up or down depending on the light. This same turquoise tone is picked up in the sky over the clouds and again in the shade of the large bluff to the right.
Stephen F. Condren – Artist