Publication Date

April 2019


Andrew Curran


English (United States)


This thesis explores the ways in which artists, particularly Claude Monet, sought to tackle the inherent impossibility of depicting motion and time in a stagnant work of art. Monet’s motivation behind his idyllic paintings was to capture the ephemeral, fleeting light at a given instant. This, of course, is seemingly impossible, as we cannot have both instantaneity and change on a single, still canvas, but Monet brings this idea to fruition. I present this topic in three chapters: (1) a historical, contextual background to situate Impressionism in the crux of an era of industrialization and urbanization in 19th Century France, as well as a brief biography of Monet; (2) a formal and scientific analysis concerning optics and Monet’s painting techniques that allowed him to express motion in his works; and (3) an exploration of how other painters in art history have depicted motion in their works. Ultimately, the conclusion I arrive at is that Monet was capable of presenting motion in his works without distorting the subjects he was painting. This is unlike the other artists who are mentioned in the third chapter. These artists create motion but sacrifice the true form of their subjects in the process. Furthermore, Monet created the perception of motion in the viewer’s brain, rather than merely describing the motion in the image. This construction of movement is a subtler illusion, rather than an explicit visual description, and allowed Monet to preserve the integrity of the subjects he was depicting. He went beyond representing just the snapshot of fleeting light and managed to represent both the still image and the interval over which the light is changing, the methods of which are explored in this thesis.



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