Darkside of the sun: Monet, that’s what I want

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

Did you ever wonder why Monet painted so many paintings of water lilies?  Were they his favorite subject: or did he just crank them out because he ‘knew how’ to paint them and didn’t have to put a lot of effort into them? The answer is ‘no’ to both questions! Monet painted them over and over because once was not enough.” Living a Life in Art

All of us, at one time or another in living our lives of art, understand exactly how Monet felt when he put a pencil in his pocket and then sat down too quickly. Or was that Manet? I always get them mixed up and surely one of the two should have changed his or her name had he or she known how much confusion they were going to cause those of us living a life in art centuries further on.

Anyway, we’ve all cranked out some water lilies at one time or another, particularly during those soul-satisfying hours when we’ve found ourselves lost in a swamp with only watercolors and a curly piece of birch bark. There’s a trick to painting water lilies, as Monet knew, and he obviously had it down pat: one of his paintings recently sold for forty-three million dollars — which is more than I have made from the sale of all my paintings put together! Life isn’t fair.

Whatever Monet’s method, I never learned it. I usually paddle quietly up to the water lily, grasping it firmly but artistically by its stalk and then applying a coating of base, mixing some mustard with aqua green, and with broad but painterly strokes slathering pigment on the top of the plant only, before placing it carefully back in the lake and making sure it will float away, unsubmerged, until the paint dries. You are welcome to try your own method, but I’m pretty sure mine would work even if you were a painter for the highway department.

Water lilies are best painted in early summer or late spring, of course, because then the paint will fade naturally as the season wears on, and when the plant finally dies the broad leaf will have acquired a natural-looking, deadish, yellowish-brown cast.

But what would Monet do over and over again in Maine, I often ask myself, since here water lilies signify a dead lake? He might simply draw. Lately, I have found that drawing is much quicker and not as messy as watercolors, nor as messy as asphalting the driveway, for that matter. So I bought myself a couple of sketch pads and some colored pencils and protractors and welding glasses and all the necessaries, plus a soft case to carry all that around in, and set out into the city. There I found people don't understand Art anymore than they did in Monet's day, when he was asked every blessed time he picked up a brush, “Que passa avec tout de lilies d’eau, Schmuck?” (“What’s with all the water lilies, Mssr. Manet?”)

Though my Maine city has a proud Franco-American heritage (spaghetti, mostly), nobody ever asks me any questions in French. It is clear they don’t understand Art any more than they’ve mastered Foreign Languages. “Hey neat,” some woman exclaims, when she sees me working furiously away. “Great! But what is that?”

“I am rendering this scene before us in the Realistic Style,” I might say, trying not to be snotty and all, and then I’ll sigh, communicating that she should leave me alone so that I can get back to the important business of Creating Great Art before it rains.

Not knowing when to quit, the lady asks me, “This is, like, plein air, right? Or is it cafe au lait? I get those artistic terms mixed up.”

“Silence, you ignorant woman! How can I create Great Art with you blathering on like an enfant terrible? Now, do you want to buy the drawing or not?”

“How much?”

“Two hundred francs.”

She took it. Later I sold the same drawing to another passerby for three hundred francs, because once was not enough. Eat your heart out, Monet. Or Manet. One of you people.

Mike Corrigan won the prestigious 2009 Prix de la Fondue Vert et des Beaux-Arts from the Sorbonne. With it came 500 francs. If anyone out there knows, please write in and tell Mike what that would be in real money, because he's always wanted to be rich.

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