Claude Monet — (1840–1926)



Claude Monet

Past: September 22, 2010 → January 24, 2011

Claude Monet painted without letting up for over sixty years, building up a body of work which incarnated Impressionism in its purest form and by the early twentieth century had laid the foundations of modern art. The exhibition at the Galeries Nationales reviews his entire fertile career. It is the most important exhibition on Claude Monet for nearly thirty years, following on from the major retrospective at the Galeries Nationales in 1980. Much research has been done on this artist in the intervening period, shedding light on little-known aspects of his work. Organised along thematic and chronological lines, the exhibition covers Monet’s career from his beginnings in the 1860s to his last paintings related to the Water Lily cycle in the Musée de l’Orangerie.

As a young artist Monet chose fairly traditional subjects, forests and beaches. In the Normandy of his childhood where Boudin and then Jongkind had introduced him to plein air techniques, he painted seascapes and “snow effects”. Then in Paris and its suburbs, with special emphasis on Argenteuil, in the 1870s, his luminous colourful landscapes of the banks of the Seine reflect the flowering of Impressionism.

In the 1880s, sites in the north and west of France as well as time spent in Normandy and on the Mediterranean coast, at Belle Ile (1886) or in the Creuse (1889) gave him a wide range of motifs. He gradually constructed his approach to nature. His studies of light and atmosphere took a growing place in the development of his personality as a painter.

Although Monet is undeniably a landscapist, he often painted figures and still lifes. With Le déjeuner sur l’herbe or Femmes au jardin, he tackled the challenge of painting outdoors. These paintings have almost never left the Musee d’Orsay. For the first time they will be put alongside indoor and outdoor scenes from the same period, on loan from foreign collections, to make a unique ensemble.

Later, his figures or portraits were treated in a more evocative, decorative way. The characters blend into a world of efflorescence or vibrant colour, an “envelope” which makes them rather unreal. The same change can be seen in his still lifes. Powerful celebrations of a world full of vitality, the still lifes from the late 1890s translate a more meditative approach in which objects disintegrate in a swirl of colour and light. In 1890, when he was already fifty, Monet established a garden on his property at Giverny, and took inspiration from the surrounding countryside, no longer so readily going to paint in other parts of France and abroad. He worked in a systematic way on paintings of the same motif, designed as series recording changes in light as the hours and seasons wore on.

Although notions of regularity and repetition are threaded throughout Monet’s career and show through forcefully in his painting, the exhibition takes another angle, showing how he thought along other lines: on several occasions he went back in time, calling on memory, dream and nostalgia.

The Grandes Décorations de Nymphéas cycle crowned Monet as a decorator. It was the culmination of research he had begun earlier in his career. He also painted decors for people he knew, such as the collector Ernest Hoschedé or his art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. From the 1890s, at a time when the decorative quality of paintings seemed to promise something new, Monet invented a personal style, reconciling a deep love of nature and the idea of a self-contained poetic world. So with Monet “the dream comes true” as his friend, the writer Octave Mirbeau aptly remarked.

Gathering nearly two hundred works, this retrospective will surprise, challenge and delight visitors with famous works and less well-known paintings but also with unaccustomed comparisons and new groupings of works seldom seen before. The exhibition also seeks to take a fresh look at a great artist who made the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.

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The artist

  • Claude Monet