This Ellsworth Kelly painting, Tableau Vert, is the first one he painted after he returned from his trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet's home. That was back in August of 1952. Kelly had just discovered that Monet had painted work after the infamous Haystack series. When Kelly arrived at Giverny, he saw a different Giverny than we see today or when Monet was still alive. After Monet's death in 1926, his house and gardens had not been kept up and had fallen into a state of disrepair. At the time Monet's stepson, Pierre Hoschede took Kelly to the studio to see the paintings that had been completed after 1900, Kelly walked into a building where pigeons were flying around. Those birds had entered through broken panes of glass. Leaves were strewn on the floor probably similar to the peanut shells at certain bars. However, the room was filled with paintings of waterlilies - about fifteen of them were over twenty feet long. Kelly describes them as "overall compositions of thickly applied oil paint representing water with lilies, no skyline. I felt that these works were impersonal statements. ... Monet's last paintings had a great influence on me, and even though my work doesn't look like his, I feel I want the spirit to be the same."
Ellsworth Kelly recently gave Tableau Vert to the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. In an interview he talks of how he created it "by mixing blues and greens to echo the colors of grass underwater". Unhappy with the result when he finished it, he had set it aside until 1985. At that time he had this to say “I liked it, but perhaps that was because time had passed." Now that Tableau Vert hangs at the AIC it presents new challenges that would probably interest Monet. Like most paintings it changes colors depending upon the light that it is seen under.
Photographer Robert Hashimoto, has worked for the AIC for more than 25 years, and says that Tableau Vert has been the work that has been most difficult to shoot. Although the name of the painting translates as "green picture" it is a mottled blue-green. Hashimoto felt that to him the painting seemed almost blue when he had it in the studio. Here is how the resolution of that issue went down.
The photo proofs were made on an ink jet printer and compared with the painting in the galleries. Digital prints “metamerize” in mixed daylight and tungsten light, making the colors look strange under different wavelengths. The warm, yellow Tungsten light used in the galleries makes the painting look greener than it does in the color-balanced light of a photography studio. “Perception of color is so subjective,” Robert says, “everyone sees color differently.” After cataract surgery, Robert now sees far more intense colors than he’d seen before – particularly in the blue end of the spectrum. “That’s when I call someone in to give me a second opinion,” he says.Monet, having had his own issues with both cataracts and myopia, certainly would have taken great interest in how the issue of light unfolded in this scenario.
If you want to see Tableau Vert in person, you'll have to travel to Chicago and visit Gallery 297 in the new Modern Wing of the AIC. Of course, Monet's Waterlilies is a bit more accessible for those of us who live here in Portland. We just need to go to the second floor of the CMCA at the Portland Art Museum.
Voice from the Couch reminded me to tell you that the photo of Ellsworth Kelly in this post is of Kelly while he was painting Tableau Vert in 1952.