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Monet did not like to varnish his paintings!

Updated: 6 hours ago

After around 1880 many of the impressionists rejected the idea of varnish for more than one reason. Monet didn’t like varnish as it flattened the paint effects he was trying to achieve. Whereas one of his contemporaries Pissarro liked the matte finish of the paint and didn’t like the shiny appearance the varnish gave.

When people ask me, ‘are your paintings varnished’, my answer is no. Partly because I use the modern acrylic paints which have a degree of protection from dirt etc due to the acrylic polymer. But on a visual preference I don’t like the light glare you get from the silk and gloss varnish. Of course you can use matt but that only dulls the painting even further. Many acrylic artists only use varnish if they are trying to increase the saturation of the colours back to its wet look. It doesn’t always work but that is the theory behind it. Another reason for not using varnish is the risk of spoiling a perfectly good painting. Many paintings have been ruined by poor application of varnish and the contamination of bugs, hair and dust. Not a good look.

Now going back to Monet and his fellow impressionists. Even though they rejected the use of varnish, it did not stop the art dealers, gallery owners and buyers of their paintings feeling the need to override their instructions. Probably because varnishing was considered the ‘proper’ way to do things to keep the paintings safe. Conservator’s at the museum such as the Denver Art Museum (please see link below) have to make a call on whether to replace a varnish on a Monet or not as this is not his intent. Interesting that even today there are hot debates on whether to varnish or not. 

What do you think?

To discover more please take a look at this YouTube program from Denver Art Museum:


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