Sailboats held as much as fascination for French Impressionist master Claude Monet as water lilies and haystacks. He made several paintings of them. The following, in my opinion, are his most splendid works on the subject. They spotlight not only the beauty and elegance of sailboats. More importantly, they show Monet’s inimitable handling of colour, light and atmosphere.

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the air and the light, which vary continuously. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”

 

— Claude Monet, 1891 (as quoted by Tate UK)

Sailboat in Petit-Gennevilliers, 1874
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A sky exploding with wonderful colours and reflections on the serene waters of the Seine combine to transform an ordinary sailboat into something majestic.

Sailboats, regatta at Argenteuil, 1874
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monet used the same pale palette for the sky, the sailboats and the river, adding tints of red for the houses to break the uniformity. Sky and water are dappled, and the boats are appear bunched together as they move gracefully along the river. All this gives the painting a peculiar kind of vitality and charm.

Le Havre, Fishing Boats Leaving the Port, 1874
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s a wet morning, but a crowd has gathered on the waterfront to watch the fishing boats sail out of the harbour to the open sea. The small figures in the foreground make the boats and their proud sails seem like multistoried buildings. This is captivating art with a narrative element.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1868
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Monet turned an ordinary day in the life of fishermen into a theatrical scene. The boat in the foreground is like an actor making his stage entrance as the curtain of day is raised. The two boats are rendered in dark brown to provide a contrast to the streaks of white light in the sky.

The Cliffs at Étretat, 1886
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

This painting — one of many done by Monet of the Étretat cliffs — is bursting  with energy. Small patches of green, yellow and brownish orange are skillfully blended to create the impression of a dynamic but not choppy sea. The brightly coloured sky and the flotilla of small fishing boats accentuate the massive, towering cliffs.

Seascape, Storm, 1866
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Courtesy of The Clark, Massachusetts, USA

Seascape, Storm is an early work by Monet that is markedly different in style and technique from his later Impressionist paintings. In lieu of small, swift brushtrokes, the colours are applied solidly with some areas worked with a palette knife. The fishing boat is set against an ominous grey sky, and the sea is mostly a dark green. Just below the horizon line is a long strip of bright green, Monet suggesting perhaps that the storm will blow over, that there is hope.

~ Barista Uno

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