Painting of the Month: The Boat at Giverny by Claude Monet

This month’s featured painting is The Boat at Giverny by Claude Monet. I thought of this painting as I put the finishing touches on Boats at Wynnum. I remember first seeing it in a documentary about Monet’s life, I, Claude Monet, and being captivated by the sea of greens and blues that filled the screen.

Claude Monet, The Boat at Giverny, 1887
Claude Monet, The Boat at Giverny, 1887

(Click here to download a higher resolution photo of the painting.)

Brief details about the painting:

  • Oil on canvas.
  • 97 x 130 cm (38 x 51 inches).
  • Completed 1887.
  • Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

Your Thoughts?

Use this as an opportunity to test your ability to analyze master paintings. In the comments below, share what you think are the top 3 most important aspects of the painting. These could relate to areas such as composition, color, value, progress, brushwork, subject, or symbolism. Once you have done that, you can compare your thoughts with my own in the drop-down below.

Click here to see my thoughts.

  • The shoreline is represented by a vague, soft edge on the left-hand side. It tells us where water meets land but is not so pronounced that it disrupts the flow of the painting. 

Tip: Hard and soft edges are powerful tools. You can use them to help the viewer navigate your painting. Hard edges tend to pull attention. They are like exclamation points in your painting. Soft edges allow our eyes to transition through the painting. 

  • Notice the subtle color differences between the land, boat, and people and their reflections. The reflections are more compressed in terms of color. The lights are not as light, the darks are not as dark, and the colors are not as rich. This is a good rule of thumb for painting reflections. The reflections are also a touch cooler in temperature (the colors lean closer to blue). 
  • The girls are simplified. Monet rendered them with just enough detail and no more. This helps them “fit in” with the rest of the painting in terms of style. It also weakens them as a focal point, making it more of a genre painting than a typical portrait. 
  • There’s a striking contrast between the lights and darks. See the grayscale and notan below. 
  • The white dresses appear white, but they are mainly painted with grays and tinted colors. Painting the white dresses with too much white would be an easy mistake to make here. Our eyes can trick us into using colors much lighter than needed. This is known as color constancy. James Gurney has a good post on it here
  • Notice the structure of the shadows on and caused by the boat. There’s a dark outline around the bottom of the boat. There are areas of reflected light bouncing up into the shadows. The boat’s cast shadow gets weaker as it gets further away. These are fundamental details that we don’t have much room to play with. Learn them and do your best to get them right. 
  • Monet painted the boat with broken, impressionist brushwork. This goes against the boat’s rigid and geometric nature, but it works in the context of the painting. This is one of the topics of this month’s training report. 
  • The painting follows an analogous color scheme with all the greens and blues. There are also a few orange, red, and yellow accents that inject warmth into the painting. Analogous color schemes are typically pleasant and calming to the eyes.

9 thoughts on “Painting of the Month: The Boat at Giverny by Claude Monet”

  1. One of my first loves is Monet and his work. Colour and reflection/contrast are my first likes in the painting and the subject matter is my third choice – serene and different – makes me smile to see three women fishing in skirts and dresses. And yes, Dan – I am now looking closely at brush strokes and what you said!! Thanks

  2. I really love Monet too, and haven’t come across this picture before so thrilled to see it! The amazing thing is how he has created such a still, calm reflection whilst still using such a dynamic mix of brush strokes and broken colour. The reflection is darker and cooler than the real things, and I like the observation of the way it’s from a slightly different viewpoint where the light bounces off the water, so you can see the underside of the hats, for example in the reflection but not real life. All the different tones and colours in the dresses come out in the hi-res version, and although it’s a strong notan the dresses seem a tadge too light for the surroundings, for me.

  3. – Value contrast. Most of the painting has darker values and only the three women and the inside of the boat is rendered in light values. Jumping out in the surrounding darkness, women make strong central focal point.
    – Hues are subdued, mostly neutral, so the values make this painting. There are visibles greens and blues, purples and pinks, but the strongest hues are traces of pink that depict women’s faces. Warm lights shine surrounded by cool darks.
    – Monet’s brushwork is legendary: visible, obvious, it looks so matter-of-fact and easy… Playful mixture of close-nit shades and tones bring depth and although the brushwork is impressionistic, the scene looks realistic.
    – The whole scene looks peaceful yet stable, grounded. There is a horizontal line dividing greenery and water and diagonal lines that create the boat and its shadow, a pair of vertical lines that ground the boat and few gentle lines depicting fish poles. Those geometric shapes together with organic background and organic shapes of women balance the painting. Forms are just slightly rendered, as little as it was necessary.

  4. Beautiful painting. To me, the most amazing thing would be the way that he used soft colors and shades of blue grey on the ladies dresses to create an almost ethereal light effect. Value contrasts between the subjects and nature certainly made the piece effective. But the reflections were also key in giving the scene a sense of realism, even with the impressionistic brush strokes and style. The amazing thing about his paintings to me is how amazing they look as a whole, and yet if viewed closely, one realizes that he masterfully leaves much room for the eye to fill in the details. And it not only works, but is so much more interesting too look at than something more detailed. (In my opinion). Thank you so much for all of the wonderful content on this Inner Circle!

  5. The first thing I see are the beautiful reflections and highlights in the water, the overhead light and the analogous calm palette of blues and greens contrasting with the lights in the ladies clothing. A very thought provoking painting, thank you, Dan.

  6. I too love Monet. The way he uses soft hues yet his subjects gently stand out especially in this with the reflections of the girls. Thank you for your analysis I am always learning more.

  7. In my view this paint is one of the most beautiful creation of Monet.
    The boat with the 3 ladies produces a strong focal point and plays a big role in the painting due to the strong contrast of its glowing white with the dull and dark surrounding scene


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