Sunday, April 3, 2011

Monet's Palette in Paintings by Mildred Nix Huie

After the 1950s, Mildred Nix Huie (1906-2000), like many artists often do, began directing her paintings toward a commercial audience. Her subjects during the 1960s and 1970s focused on landmark and plantation scenes drawn from her locality. Historical landmarks such as Fort Frederica, Christ Church, and the seventeen colonial plantations on and near Saint Simons Island, Georgia interested Huie as well as vacationers and locals alike. In a keen move, Huie combined her passion for the region's history with her artistic talents in order that her works be marketable to the community of collectors. In this sense Huie was able to use her paintings to transfer her knowledge of history and emotionality of Coastal Georgia to viewers of her art.

What is remarkable about this shift is Huie's dedication to a specific color palette throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Whereas in previous works Huie often used bold colors, later in her career she utilized a softer, lighter palette. Her choice of color is comparable to that of Claude Monet after 1860. It was later in Monet's career that he abandoned dark colors in favor of lighter hues.
This image illustrates colors often used by Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
Not only was Monet's conception of a limited palette made famous but his recognizable brushwork was as well. The broken color applied with rapid brushstrokes became synonymous with Monet and the greater Impressionism movement (culminating in the 1870s and 1880s). In addition to a change in palette choice, Huie also took on more Impressionistic qualities in her brushwork. Although stylistically different from Monet, Huie began applying paint to surfaces in color-block fashion. For example, rather than technically painting flowers how they are seen by the eye, she painted a series of brushstrokes to give the viewer the impression of flowers.

Mildred Nix Huie, Cloister Fountain, ca. 1968. Oil on canvas, 26"x14". Bequest of Lucy Brous. Mildred Huie Plantation Museum at Mediterranean House, Saint Simons Island, GA.
Cloister Fountain (1968) depicts the Cloister courtyard on Sea Island, GA, a favorite place of the artist's to paint. The foreground is where the viewers eye is immediately drawn. In the right front third of the painting is a large fountain, energetically spewing foamy water into the air. Behind this a blue bird rests, unconcerned with the chaotic eruption of the fountain. The background consists of foliage and flowers. Although the definite geometric shapes of the garden scene are indistinguishable due to the Impressionistic brushstrokes, the viewer senses that this is a well-manicured and designed space. The careful placement of colors and brushstrokes indicate that the artist desired to convey the idea that the flora is not growing haphazardly but in an intentional manner.

Mildred Nix Huie. Cloister Lily Pond, 1970. Oil on
canvas, 13.5"x 10.5". Mildred Huie Plantation
Museum at Mediterranean House, Saint Simons
Island, GA.

Claude Monet, White and Yellow Water Lilies, 1915-1917. Oil on canvas, 78.74"x78.74". Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Germany.
Cloister Lily Pond (1970) is instantly reminiscent of Monet's White and Yellow Water Lilies (1915-1917). In Huie's work the foreground contains a lily pond which stretches into the distance creating a focal point and subsequently consuming the bottom half of the canvas. The blooming water lilies float atop the water carrying their pink and purple blossoms. The sunlight appears to be directed onto the water from the top right corner of the scene, casting purplish shadows into the serene water of the pond. In both Monet's and Hiue's water lily paintings the water beneath the drifting leafage is dark and contrasting to the brightness of the lilypads. A combination of blue and purple brushstrokes create this effect, neither artist relying on black to depict depth or shadows. This is important as Impressionist painters rarely use black. Monet used a combination of reds, greens, and blues to produce colors which appear black in nature.  Huie's Cloister Lily Pond is congruous with this concept as her choice of colors resembles those of Monet. Proposedly, Huie used this same combination of colors in Cloister Lily Pond and many other of her works. Although, the scenes depicted and the water lilies' colors differ from one painting to the other, a parallel remains evident in both painters' choice of colors to depict water.

It should be noted here that Huie traveled to France many times throughout her career.  During the mid-eighties Huie visited Monet's home and gardens at Giverny.  Monet's Garden, Giverny (ca. 1985) consists of the same color palette and brushwork as the two previously discuessed works by Huie.  Greens and blues indicate shadow and pink, purple, and orange color-blocks give the impression of flowers. In the foreground a path winds through the garden  leading to Monet's house in the background.  Nearly twenty years after completion of Cloister Fountain, Huie was still commited to using a light, pastel palette and Impressionistic brushstrokes.

Mildred Nix Huie. Monet's Garden, Giverny, ca.1985. Oil on canvas, 20"x 24". Mildred Huie Plantation Museum at Mediterranean House, Saint Simons Island, GA.
 Perhaps Huie was motivated to adopt a palette similar to Monet's in order to improve the marketability of her paintings.  Since his rise to fame during his lifetime (1840-1926), Monet's works have continued to sell with increasing pricetags over the decades.  In May 2008 Monet's The Railroad Bridge at Argenteuil (1873) sold for $41.4 million at Christie's of New York and broke the record for the selling price of French Impressionist paintings.  This is telling of people's desire to own a Monet.  It is quite possible that Huie realized this desirability and, combined with her admiration for Impressionist techniques and Monet's palette, this motivated her to use her passion and talents to her advantage and give the people what they want.  However, it is equally as plausible that Huie saw blues, greens and reds in the lily pond, as Monet had, and simply painted what she saw.