The Windmills of Monet

Claude Monet door de fotograaf Albert Greiner, Amsterdam, 1871
Claude Monet by the photographer Albert Greiner, Amsterdam, 1871.

The year was 1871.

Claude Monet had been exiled to England during the Franco-Prussian War.

Now he was traveling in Holland, staying in Zaandam, a picturesque little town near Amsterdam.

During his stay, he painted about 20 views of the town and its environs.

The weather was mostly overcast, and he conveyed the atmosphere by limiting the range of colors, as was the style among contemporary Netherlandish landscape painters.

In a letter to his friend Camille Pissarro, who was living in England at the time, Monet wrote,

There are the most amusing things everywhere. Houses of every colour, hundreds of windmills and enchanting boats, extremely friendly Dutchmen who almost all speak French…. I have not had time to visit the museums, I wish to work first of all and I’ll treat myself to that later.

Years later, in May 1886, the French Embassy in Amsterdam invited Monet to visit Holland again.

He spent about a month in the Hague, traveling through Rijnsburg and Sassenheim and painting the beautiful tulip fields.

Unlike his last visit in 1871, the weather was good, and is reflected in the more vivid colors.

Before the Impressionist movement, most paintings were created in a studio. By painting en plein air “in the open air”, the Impressionists could capture the transient effects of light more effectively. Instead of focusing on details, they painted the overall visual effect, with brushwork and color that created a more dynamic representation of life.

Impressionism is like the images at the edge of our vision … the images in our dreams … the windmills in our minds.

Enjoy the Windmills of Monet as you listen to Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind”.

Mills in the Westzijderveld near Zaandam by Claude Monet 1871.
A windmill near Zaandam by Claude Monet 1871.
The Zaan at Zaandam by Claude Monet 1871.

Monet sought to break away from the traditional subjects favored by academic art. He was drawn to the countryside and natural landscapes, and windmills were often found in rural settings, offering the opportunity to depict nature and rustic scenes.

A Mill at Zaandam by Claude Monet 1871.
Windmill at Zaandam by Claude Oscar Monet 1871.
Windmills Near Zaandam by Claude Monet 1871.

Windmills have distinctive shapes and blades that can create interesting patterns of light and shadow, especially during different times of the day. Monet was fascinated by the transient effects of light, and windmills provided an ideal subject for exploring these effects.

The Windmill, Amsterdam by Claude Monet 1874.
Monet Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill by Claude Monet 1886.
Tulip fields and windmills near Rijnsburg by Claude Monet 1886.
Tulip Field in Holland by Claude Monet 1886.

Other Impressionist artists, like Pissarro, also loved to paint windmills. The rotating blades of windmills added a sense of movement and energy to the scenes, contributing to the dynamism of the paintings. This dynamic quality allowed artists to experiment with capturing motion and spontaneity in their works.

Windmill at Knokke, Belgium by Camille Pissarro, 1894.
The Knocke Windmill, Belgium by Camille Pissarro, 1902

Windmills have a unique and recognizable silhouette, making them stand out in a composition. The artists could use these shapes to experiment with form and composition, emphasizing the abstract qualities of the subject.

The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry by Vincent van Gogh, 1886
Windmills on Montmartre by Vincent van Gogh, 1886