The Japanese Footbridge, Giverny, c. 1922
Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926
Oil on canvas
35 × 36 inches (88.9 × 94.1 cm)
Gift of Audrey Jones Beck
Habits of Mind
- DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence
Scaffolding and Questioning Strategies:
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
- Introduction into sketching ideas for a larger work
- Introduction into a series of work
Connecting to the Work of Art
No subject is more readily identified with artist Claude Monet than his private garden and lily pond, both located at his home within the small French village of Giverny. The tangled brushstrokes and thickly applied paint of The Japanese Footbridge at Giverny yield an almost abstracted canvas that is unusual to Monet’s style. However, this work does not stray far from the artist’s typical repertoire as it reveals his fascination with light and atmosphere. Monet’s great pleasure in the contemplation of natural beauty and his desire to capture the essence of nature on canvas led him to the completely new style of painting later termed Impressionism.
Monet’s harmonious combination of unmixed colors and varied brushstrokes produced masterful studies in light. These paintings reveal the artist’s immediate impression of a scene while also refusing to be completely legible. The loud color scheme and vigorously applied paint immediately attracts the eye. The flora, sky, and water are depicted through quickly applied, thick layers of paint that blend together at a distance to reveal the scene. They unite the composition and provide a framework for a uniform background while darker, smaller brushstrokes form the arc of the footbridge. The bridge horizontally divides the canvas and provides the scene with a sense of symmetry.
Conjuring fiery, dark evocations of twilight, the warm, earthy hues of red, teal, and gold overwhelm the canvas. The viewer’s attention is focused onto the paint itself rather than being drawn into the scene. Just as the background appears to dissolve into the water in the foreground, the left side of the bridge is enveloped by the glow of nature and seems to be melting into the atmosphere. Floating lily pads and mirrored reflections assume equal stature within the painting as distinctions between solid objects and transitory light are blurred. Monet had always been interested in reflections, seeing their fragmented forms as a natural equivalent for his own broken brushwork.
Works like this painting show Monet’s interest in types of compositions that became the forerunners of abstraction. After many years of struggle, during which Monet experienced extreme poverty, the painter finally achieved much financial, critical, and popular success. It was during this chapter in his life that he was able to purchase his home in Giverny and employ staff to help cultivate the beautiful gardens now associated with his paintings. By painting en plein air (outdoors), Monet was able to showcase his analysis of his environment under varying conditions of light and season.
“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 light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.” –Claude Monet
- Look closely at the composition. How does the artist divide the space?
- Describe the brushstrokes and how the paint is applied. Do the brushstrokes imply that the subject was carefully considered or quickly captured? Explain your reasoning.
- This is an almost-abstracted image of a bridge over a pond. What elements does the artist include that prevents the viewers from immediately knowing the subject of the painting?
- The artist was fascinated with light and atmosphere. How is light captured in this work of art? How would you describe the light? Is it warm or stark?
- What type of mood does the artist create? How does the use of warm, earthy hues add to this tone?
- How would the mood of this work change if it were painted in cool, blue tones?
- How does the artist use color and brushstrokes to depict an immediate impression of light and atmosphere and the sensation of pleasure that it brings?
- Discuss the use of the bridge as a means to spatially separate the foreground and background. Do you think this work would be as powerful if the bridge was not included in the composition?
- Do you think the artist intentionally meant to confuse the viewer?
- The artist attempted to capture the transitory effects of light. Do you think he successfully achieved this goal? Why or why not?
- The artist’s contemplation of natural beauty and his desire to capture the essence of nature on canvas led him to a completely new style of painting that would eventually be known as Impressionism. How does this work embody the style of Impressionism?
- This artist was one of the first artists to paint en plein air (outdoors). How do you think the direct study of nature affect his depiction of nature?
- The artist often painted the same view in nature under different conditions of light and season. In your opinion, why do you think the artist would chose to paint the same scene over and over?
- The artist said, “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 light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.” How does this quote apply to the painting?
- This lesson could be used while the students are working on a painting or colorful drawing as a warm-up or a break from the project.
- Studying Monet’s water lilies would be a good introduction to a series work—for example, a series of paintings or a series of portraits. Students will view the work of art and try to figure out what they are looking at. After the discussion of the artwork, show them a series of bridge and water lily paintings.
- Explore Monet’s development of one subject matter many times (his garden), and the idea of reworking.
- Ask students how he went from the soft tones to the wildly colorful and more aggressive bridge.
- Share with students that Monet was going blind in old age. Monet did not stop doing what he loved because he was physically ailing (developed cataracts and had multiple cataract surgeries).
- How does that change our interpretation of the painting? Ask them if they think he painted like this because he could not see, or because he refined his technique?
- Ask students if they prefer Monet’s early water lily paintings or his later paintings? Why?
Subject Matter Connection
Middle school students expect instant gratification. In art class, they are reluctant to make multiple sketches, rework an artwork, or even create more than one artwork about the same topic or using the same materials. Learning about Monet’s endurance with his artwork by studying an artist who made a series of the same images over and over will help students see that good art takes endurance. Series work and multiples of one idea can lead artists to perfect their craft.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.