France rediscover their Monet
For the Japanese he was a living god. The Brits and the Americans put him on t-shirts, posters and mugs marvelling at his enchanting brush strokes. But the French have never been that enamoured. For them he was a pretty but simplistic painter. Until now that is.
The largest ever exhibition of the works of the Impressionist master Claude Monet is taking place at Paris’ Grand Palais. Almost 200 paintings – including some never shown in France before on loan from as far a field as America and Australia, as well as Europe – are on display. It’s the first large Monet retrospective in his home country since 1980. There are pictures from almost every phase of his career, which lasted from the early 1860s until his death in 1926 and these paintings are amazingly only a tenth of the work he did in his lifetime.
The exhibition was the idea of the director of the Musée d'Orsay, Guy Cogeval. He thought France had become too blasé about its extraordinary heritage of late 19th-century art. The show has been put together by a number of curators including Professor Richard Thomson from the University of Edinburgh who was a guest on the Culture Show. They faced the same problem as any exhibition of Monet's work: how to make overly familiar material seem as exciting as it did when it was first shown. Much of it has been seriously over-exposed.
The show makes two main points. The first is that Monet was not just a landscape specialist; he was also a decent figurative painter. The second is how Monet changed from painting many different landscapes, to painting the same landscape over and over again. He moved from the singular to series. In my opinion it is THE show to see this autumn – I’m sorry if that sounds clichéd. Ultimately it needs to be seen above all because of the strength and breadth of the art on view.
If you do manage to get to the show, you’ll be one of the 700,000 people who are estimated to go during its 16-week run until 24th January. Impressionism has proved the most popular movement in the history of art. Today retrospectives of the work are a guaranteed success. Among the big names (Renoir, Degas, Sisley), it’s Monet who stands head and shoulders above the rest: But how much visitors will actually see is another question. Many will marvel at Monet's great 19th-Century landscapes through a mass of 21st-Century heads and a few rude individuals who huff and puff at you (speaking from personal experience and that was at the press showing!)
2010 is going to be the year of a great Monet revival in Paris. The Musée Marmottan Monet is organising its own "retrospective." It will put its entire collection of 135 paintings, sketches and notebooks on display for the first time from 6th October to 20th February. The exhibition is called La Collection Intime. So in the 14 weeks when the two shows overlap, art lovers will be able to view more than 300 Monet canvasses (plus those in the Musée d'Orsay, plus the giant murals of water lillies permanently affixed to the walls of the Musée de l'Orangerie). You wait for 30 years for a big Monet exhibition and two come along at the same time.