Monet was not the first artist to claim that he never drew. Giorgione, Titian, Caravaggio and countless other ‘painter’s painters’ have said the same, although art historians have subsequently found them out. Why this urge to dissemble, to appear to emerge fully formed as a painter, with no need to study a subject or consider a composition from different angles?
In the case of Monet, perhaps old-fashioned drawing didn’t fit into his self-made myth. After all, he had pioneered Impressionism, a form of painting that expressed the fugitive effects of light and colour, and appeared to break free of linear constraints. Yet even in his most abstract paintings, such as Water Lilies on the cover, drawing remains crucial: he creates lily pads out of lines of colour, while the tangles of chalky, white lines glimmering on the dark surface of the water anchor the image in a physical reality. This painting, probably made at dusk, catches the reflection of a willow tree in the pond at Giverny, although it is impossible to tell where the tree ends and the water begins.
By revealing Monet’s graphic work, ‘The Unknown Monet’ enhances our picture of this much-loved artist. As Debra Mancoff writes, pastel sketches enabled him to express the fleeting effects of the London fog: ‘Through the directness of drawing in colour, Monet captured his impressions with unprecedented immediacy.’ She then looks at his sketchbook of Rouen to see how he ‘stalked the perfect point of view’ of the famous cathedral through drawings.
Drawing also underpins the way Holbein created a likeness, says painter and portraitist Humphrey Ocean RA, particularly how the artist drew mouths: ‘Holbein’s mouths are very individual. Often there’s just enough; any less and they wouldn’t be there, any more would be too much.’ He chats to Martin Gayford about a panoply of splendid portraiture exhibitions, including ‘Holbein in England’ and ‘Citizens and Kings’. Another German artist to take London by storm this season is Anselm Kiefer. As Rod Mengham discusses, Kiefer’s precarious towers look as though they are falling down. Such ruined structures pointing to the heavens form part of Kiefer’s obsession with the cyclical nature of history and the paradoxical relationship of creation and destruction.
Kiefer’s interest in history and myth shares themes in common with the visionary artist William Blake, whose 250th birthday is celebrated this year. Tracy Chevalier has written a new novel inspired by his radical art and publishes an exclusive extract. The painter John Craxton RA also feels a creative kinship with Blake: ‘He was linear and fought against the grand manner and all that pompous English painting of the eighteenth century.’
Both Blake and Craxton mix a love of line with a spiritual sense of colour in their art. Surprisingly, Monet – though poles apart aesthetically – also did this. ‘The Unknown Monet’ reminds us that by taking a fresh look at the familiar, we may chance upon unexpected delights.
Sarah Greenberg, Editor