The method of object analysis used by my students will be one developed by Professor Jules Prown of Yale University. By using Prown's method of object study, students will proceed step by step to better understand Impressionism and the French culture that produced Impressionism. This method of object analysis progresses through three stages: description, deduction and speculation. Description refers to what can be observed and includes substantial analysis, content and formal analysis. Deduction moves from the object to the perceived relationship between the object and the analyst and includes sensory engagement, intellectual engagement and emotional response. Speculation allows creative ideas to progress to theories and hypotheses and a program of research. With my help, students will learn to analyze paintings, specifically those by the painters studied in this unit and on display at the Yale Art Gallery. Following is a sample object analysis done of
On the Beach at Trouville
by Claude Monet.
This medium sized painting measures approximately 24" x 20". Clouds mostly cover a blue sky above a blue green sea whose waves break onto a beige sandy beach. Three figures appear on the beach: two women and a child. Three flags extend from the tops of poles located in the water. Nine small figures are in the water. A two masted sailing ship appears on the horizon between the flagpoles to the left and center.
The largest figure, a woman, sits leaning backwards in a chair on the beach gazing slightly downward and just barely to the right of the viewer. She has long full black hair which falls down the back of her neck and over her left shoulder. She wears a black hat with a floral decoration on top. The hat ties underneath her chin with a thin black bow. The veil that covers her face ties with a large beige colored ribbon bow behind her head. Only her dark eyebrows, eyes and the top of her nose are visible through the veil. The figure's left arm bends with her left hand resting on her lap and holding what appears to be a grey pillow or open book. Her right arm bends with her elbow resting on the grey object. The raised right hand holds an umbrella with the fingers extended, the handle of the umbrella resting on the palm of the hand. The shaft of the umbrella is yellow and black. The white umbrella has a deep blue lining. The figure wears a long sleeved, full-length dress, pale yellow with a darker yellow under-skirt. Ruffles adorn the dress at the neck, cuffs and hem of the overskirt. The color of the dress matches the color of the floral decoration on the hat.
The other female figure wears a dark navy or black hat with a turquoise blue ribbon on the back. She walks along the beach near the edge of the water and to the farright of the figure in the yellow dress. Her hair and facial features are not visible although her head tilts slightly downward towards the water's edge. She wears a midlength dress which stops at her calves. The violet red and dark blue upper portion of the long sleeved dress extends to below the waist where the skirt becomes white. Black vertical lines are visible on the waist of the dress and a black floral motif follows around the skirt just above the hem of the dress. The figure wears grey stockings, and black shoes. Her left arm is straight, angled backward, and extends behind her left hip. She wears a grey glove on her left hand. The right arm and hand are not visible. The left leg extends slightly behind her and the right leg is straight beneath the figure.
The child appears to the left of the female figure walking on the beach. The boy wears a black hat with a wide rim. His long sleeved dark navy jacket extends below his waist to his hips. The collar of a white shirt is visible at the neckline of the jacket. His short pale blue pants stop at the knee revealing grey stockings and red shoes. His short black hair shows beneath the back of his hat. His facial features are not visible but his head faces straight ahead at the waves where they break on the sand. His left arm bends with the forearm extended out in front of him at waist level. The child's right arm also bends with only his elbow visible on the right side of his back. His upper torso leans forward toward the water. The boy's left leg bends with his left foot elevated above the sand. The right leg bends only slightly with the right foot on the ground.
The smaller figures in the water wear brown and black clothing although specific articles of clothing are not discernable other than on the three figures who are clearly wearing hats. The sailing vessel has both beige colored sails raised. The sail to the right or stern of the ship is fully raised. The sail to the front or bow of the ship is raised a little more than halfway and the mast extends upward above the partially raised sail. The hull of the ship is brown, as are the masts. The ship faces towards the left with the deck even with the horizon. The largest flagpole stands just to left of the center of the painting and to the right of the largest figure's face. The pole is grey and the flag is dark blue. The flag is extended and is at a 45 degree angle from the pole. The second flagpole to the right is smaller and the third flagpole also to the right is still smaller. Both of these flagpoles are also grey with their flags being grey also. The blue green water near the horizon becomes green and yellow toward the shore. The white of the waves crashing on the beach leads to grey blue water on the sand. The sand is brown where it meets the water changing to light tan away from the water.
The horizontal lines consist of the horizon and the shaft of the umbrella. The three flagpoles make strong vertical lines, as do the two female figures. The rim of the umbrella opening also makes a vertical line. A very strong diagonal follows the angle of the three flags and the hat of one of the figures in the water to the hat and bent torso of the boy on the beach. Another strong diagonal follows the folds in the large figure's veil and continues across her lap. The vertical line of the largest flagpole intersects with the horizontal line of the umbrella shaft framing the largest figure's face. Geometric shapes consist of rectangles, triangles, circles and squares. The sky is a very large rectangle, smaller rectangles are seen in the flags. The two largest triangles are the water and the sand. The ribbon on the second lady's hat forms a triangle, as do the sails on the ship. Each segment of the umbrella forms a triangle. Circles are the eyes of the largest female figure and the heads of the other two figures. Circles also appear near the hem of the largest figure's overskirt. A large square is the frame formed by the flagpole and the umbrella post. There are curved lines at the edge of each section of the umbrella, along the top edge of the seated figure's skirt and along the boy's back.
The brightest spots in the painting are the breaking waves and areas of the seated figure's skirt. The source of light appears to be directly overhead. There is a lot of yellow in the painting, seen in the floral hat decoration, the seated lady's dress, and the water. There is also a lot of blue which is visible in the sky, the water, the child's pants, and the lining of the umbrella. The fabric of the veil is gauze and is slightly rough. The top of the seated figure's dress and her overskirt are an organza type fabric and also a bit rough although the underskirt appears to be smooth, perhaps cotton.
The woman sitting in the chair is the closest to the viewer. The viewer is approximately six feet from the woman's right side in line with her gaze. The child walks twenty to twenty-five feet to the back and right of the seated figure with the other female figure immediately to the right rear of the child. The seated figure's chair is eight to ten feet from the edge of the water. The child and the walking figure approach the water's edge at a short distance of perhaps three feet. The first flagpole is 100 feet from the viewer with the second flag and third flag approximately 100 feet apart receding into the distance. The people in the water are waist deep about twenty feet from the viewer, between the first and second flagpoles. The flagpoles seem to be placed to indicate the edge of the swimming area. The ship on the horizon is half a mile away and sailing toward the left. From the color of the sails and style of the ship, I deduce that it is a commercial sailing vessel.
The time of day is between three o'clock and four o'clock in the afternoon. The sun is to the upper left of the seated figure as indicated by the shadow of the umbrella on the woman's left shoulder and the lack of light on the front and left side of her face. In addition to the shadow of the lowered umbrella, the fact that is lowered shows that the sun no longer beats on her head and she no longer needs the umbrella for protection. From the direction of the sun I can also deduce that the ship is sailing to the west. I would deduce that the time of year is summer as there are bathers in the water. This would also indicate that the temperature is warm, perhaps in the high 70's or 80's.
The wet sand indicates that the tide is going out. The width of the shallow receding water on the beach also confirms this deduction. The sand near the breaking waves is smooth and packed hard; the sand away from the water is loose and soft. Sounds would include the breaking of the waves, the sound of the figures walking in the sand and the voices of the bathers. One would also hear the water hitting against the poles, the splashing of the people in the water and the flapping of the flags in the wind. The extended flags, the full sails of the ship and the ribbons outstretched from the ladies' hats, evidence the wind. The saltwater smell is evident, even stronger now and mixed with other smells of low tide.
The seated figure is a relatively young woman, probably in her late twenties. The boy is about eight years old. The age of the standing woman is not discernable. I would deduce that there is a relationship between the boy and the standing woman as they are together walking toward the water. I would also deduce there is a relationship between the seated woman and the painter as indicated by her strong gaze in the direction of the viewer/painter.
The clothing of the figures indicates an earlier time period. The women are wearing long sleeved, long dresses in spite of the warm summer weather. They appear accepting of this style of clothing and do not appear uncomfortable or excessively warm. The hats, decorated with large bows and flowers, are also indicative of an earlier time. The seated figure wears a veil which may be to protect her face from the sand. The veil would also protect her from getting a suntan as a suntan was indicative of working class people. In spite of her veil, it is possible to feel the strong, yet downward glance of the woman. This leads me to feel a connection with her and to feel that she is seriously contemplating something affecting her life. She is not unhappy, just pensive. She is comfortable in her chair, relaxed to the point that she has let the umbrella down to rest on her shoulder. She seems oblivious to the other figures and to the sights and sounds of the beach. She would be feeling the breeze which is blowing her hair against the left side of her face, the softness of the veil across her face, the chair against her back and the shaft of the umbrella on her right shoulder.
The young boy appears excited to be at the beach. He is anxious to arrive at the water's edge and runs toward the waves. I can deduce that he is making cries of excitement regarding the waves, wet sand or whatever else is catching his eye. He is not aware of all the sights and sound at the beach because he is so focused on arriving at the water's edge. The woman with him is close by, watching over him. She also is interested in the water but her main focus is the care of the boy. She however would be aware of the sights and sounds around her as she is not so intently focused as the boy or pensive as the seated woman.
As the viewer, I imagine that I am approaching the seated woman. I am simply walking along the beach and will soon pass by her on the right. She has been sitting there for some time and appears in no rush to be leaving. The boy was walking calmly a minute ago but has broken into a run as he has gotten closer to the water. He has only just begun to run or he would be further ahead of the woman with him. In just another minute he will be at the water's edge and will bend down and touch the water. My emotional response to the painting is one of both calm and excitement with the calm being stronger. I feel relaxed and content to be at the beach with the figures. I also feel warm as they do, but am aware of all the sights, sounds and smells.
I would speculate that the seated woman is important to Monet, perhaps even his wife, as he has made an effort to frame her face with the shaft of the umbrella and the first flagpole. I also know that Monet and his wife were married in June of the year the painting was created. I know also that she spent that summer with him at the seaside town of Trouville. I would also speculate that the boy is their son who was three years old at the time his parents married. Monet has made an effort to draw attention to him with the diagonal line formed by the flags.
The clothing worn by the people leads me to speculate that these people are not accustomed to going to the beach. They must be incredibly hot in the sun with their long sleeved outfits. The happy, warm, relaxed feeling projected from the painting indicates that these people are perhaps on vacation. Whether or not it is an extended vacation, they are certainly enjoying a leisure time activity. The ability to have free time, to go on vacation was a relatively new way of life for the French middle class or bourgeoisie. I speculate that these people are a part of this bourgeoisie and are enjoying the ability to have time at the beach. Even though France and Prussia are at war, there are no indications of this in the painting, no political overtones. As I know that in the fall of this year (1870) Monet took his family out of France to England, I speculate that he has no interest in the political movements of this time.
Questions that could possibly be answered by further research are: what type of clothing was typically worn to the beach in this time period? Are these people on vacation and is that in fact Monet's wife and son? Was Trouville a popular resort area at the time? How did people get to Trouville and where did they stay?