Thursday, 13 July 2017

Claude Monet's Impressionism

Monet was fascinated by reflections found in his pond at Giverny
This morning I headed to the Vancouver Art Gallery to check out Claude Monet: Secret Garden that just kicked off late last month and is on until October 1.

Another painting of the waterlilies
Luckily I had a free ticket and got to literally walk in -- there was a pretty long line at the entrance to buy admission tickets.

This exhibition features 38 paintings from the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris. The museum has the biggest collection of Monet's works in the world, as well as other Impressionist painters like Edgar Degas, Camille Pissaro, Paul Gaugin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The museum is currently undergoing renovation, which is why Monet's works are touring around -- with Vancouver as the only North American city stop.

In the show, the paintings focus on his impressionist style and in particular when he lived in Giverny, France, where he lived from 1883 until his death in 1926. We see his enthusiasm for painting in situ as much as possible, to capture the moment, and how he would paint the same subject over and over, studying how the light affects it at different times of the day and seasons.

He once said that he never used the colour black because nature didn't use it, and instead used other colour combinations to paint shadows.

My picture of the pond in 2015, with the bridge at the back
You also see the progression of his work, from the beginning of his impressionist style that becomes more abstract as he gets older, mostly because his eyesight was deteriorating and the frustration of not being able to see the colours as well almost put him off painting.

However, Monet could not not paint -- as a result his colours become more bold and farther from reality, moving away from pastel colours to more burgundies, browns, oranges, and ochre.

This progression was illustrated in his series of paintings of the Japanese bridge at Giverny. In reality the bridge is a pistachio green, with a canopy of wisteria hanging overhead, as well as some weeping willows.

However, in his later years, the colours change and become a more autumnal palette, the brushstrokes aren't very definitive in terms of identifiable shapes, but still strong and determined.

This painting of the bridge was done in 1918-19...
He and his two sons moved to Giverny, a country home he rented with his patron's widow, Alice Hoschede and her six children. They later married. When they moved to Giverny, he set about designing the gardens, and showed his green thumb expertise and enthusiasm.

There he planted many different kinds of flowers and made a pond where he could set up his Japanese-style bridge. It was the reflections in the water that fascinated the artist, inspiring him to paint his most well-known works, the waterlilies.

"These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. It's quite beyond my powers at my age, and yet I want to succeed in expressing what I feel," Monet remarked in 1908.

At the end of the show, there is a small room, where American photographer Stephen Shore took pictures of Giverny, giving visitors a better idea of what the gardens looked like in reality.

... while this one was done 1918 to 1924 that is more abstract
I had the privilege of being at Giverny just over two years ago, and I loved every moment being there, knowing that Monet had wandered the same grounds and we saw the same flowers he planted in the late 19th century.

It is interesting to speculate what kinds of paintings Monet would have produced if his eyesight wasn't so bad -- what would he have done?

After his death in 1926, he did not have a will, but all his possessions were inherited by his younger son Michel. When he died in 1966, he bequeathed what he had to Musee Marmottan Monet.

We are very lucky to see this show and be up close to Monet, who taught us to see things in another way.

Claude Monet: Secret Garden
Until October 1, 2017
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street

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