Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Effet de Neige

In 1868, a reporter recalled an incident near Honfleur from the previous year: "It was in the winter, during several days of snow ... It was cold enough to split stones. We perceived a foot-warmer, then an easel, then a man, swathed in three coats, his hands in his gloves, his face half frozen. It was Monsieur Monet, studying a snow effect." (House, John; Monet: Nature into Art; New Haven: Yale University Press 1986.)

Several years ago 63 winter plein air paintings by French impressionists were exhibited at the Phillips Collection in a show entitled, Effets de Neige.  This exhibition also traveled to San Francisco, and Brooklyn and lives on in the memories of those of us lucky enough to have seen it at the time.  Today, with blizzards raging on the east coast, it is even more meaningful.

La Pie (The Magpie) Claude Monet, 1869

Whenever weather is not the usual fare as in the mini-ice age of France in the mid-19th century, (and our current situation here in Washington, DC) our responses are heightened.  The art serves as a visual record  documenting both the excitement and challenges of the moment.


This monoprint created by a secondary student examines snow in a wood behind his home.  Because extreme winter weather is unusual it is memorable.  Our senses are heighten  by the crisp temperatures, wind, flakes, ice, smells, and warm clothing.  The landscape becomes changed and how we act on the land is different.
Having students record their responses to a major weather event especially with monoprints is an excellent way to preserve these complex feelings and responses to the natural world.