Fireflies: Masterpiece of the Month - "The Magpie" by Claude Monet         

Jan 23, 2013

Masterpiece of the Month - "The Magpie" by Claude Monet

"The Magpie" by Claude Monet, 1868.

When we think of Claude Monet we think of impressionism, but does this look like Monet's typical impressionism to you?  It looks perhaps like a beautiful snow scene many contemporary artists might even paint today.  In this painting created in 1868, the "Father of Impressionism," Claude Monet, shows us his more realistic side.  "The Magpie" was painted before his famous "Impression Sunrise" painting, below, which first exhibited in 1874 in Paris in what became known as the First Impressionist Exhibition,

Notice the difference in the color palettes of these two paintings.  "Impression Sunrise" is mainly a warm color palette, reflecting the warmth of the sun with its colors.  "The Magpie" is mainly a cool color palette, displaying icy cold blues, violets, greys, and white.  Monet was living off the coast of Normandy with his family in Etretat at the time he painted this beautiful snow scene of "The Magpie" in 1868 plein air (French, meaning "in the open air.")  My fingers are cold just thinking about painting this outdoors!  

The cool blue-violet shadows in "The Magpie" angling downward to the right instead of cutting straight across the picture plane, give us something to lean into and chew on for a bit, happily digesting its truth.   The pie-sliced sunlit snow in the front or foreground shows us footprints in the snow that stop just before the ladder the raven sits on.  Your little students will giggle if you ask them this question:  "I wonder what happened to the person whose footprints we see?"  They will probably come up with all sorts of funny stories you can write down in your teacher's journal or parent/grandparent diary!

Did they disappear into the snow or perhaps take a leap of faith off of the ladder into the snow and then wander off the page?  I am sure Monet added them for visual interest and did not expect such us to wonder such things!

The lone raven on the ladder is assuredly our focal point.  His singular black figure against the white snow in the position of authority falls directly in one of the golden sections or sweet spots of our composition.

Contrast "The Magpie" painting to one of Monet's snow paintings completed five years later in 1873 entitled "Train in the Snow:"

Here are a few more questions for you to engage with your student(s):

  • In the painting "The Magpie," what colors do you see?  How about the colors in the "Train in the Snow" painting?  (Note both use similar colors, but the values, or how dark and light the colors are, remain different. ) 
  • Do you think "The Magpie" painting was painted on a sunny day or a cloudy day? 
  • How about the "Train in the Snow," painting?  Was it painted on a sunny day or cloudy day? 
  • "Which painting, "The Magpie" or "Train in the Snow," do you like better?"  "Why?"
Enjoy sharing these paintings with your student(s) and learning more about the Father of Impressionism, Claude Monet!



Laura Bird Miller, artist/art instructor

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