Has there ever been a pilgrimage like it: Paris, London, Rouen and Venice seen through the eyes of Claude Monet? And what an impression it left: I swooned and swayed as I was transported back to my childhood in a warm cocoon of cobalt blue and vermilion nostalgia. The National Gallery’s latest mega-blockbuster art exhibition, Monet and Architecture is sure to be a monumental hit. The only problem is, will you be able to beat the rush and get a ticket? But try, and try you must. This is the first Monet-only exhibition to be staged in London for 20 years, and it’s surely the last time in our lifetimes when such a staggering collection of paintings will be under the same roof.
Featuring more than 75 paintings, Monet and Architecture covers the period from the mid-1860s to 1912. Nearly a quarter of the rarely-seen works are from private collections and some firm favourites are also on show: Boulevard des Capucines and The National Holiday of 30 June, 1878.
Claude Monet is known for his landscapes and seascapes – the most famous of which are his water lilies. So, it’s surprising to see the profusion of cityscapes produced by the French Master. Industrialisation is juxtaposed with the resplendent architecture of the old world of Venice and the Rouen Cathedral. The man-made world makes its reflective, oily appearance in this exhibition, and it’s a divine sight to behold.
Paris had just hosted the Exposition Universelle when Monet painted the Quai du Louvre. The old world sits above the new with the Pantheon and the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont shouldering the newly-planted trees in the foreground, the Morris columns advertising theatrical shows and the hustle and bustle of human traffic.
In 1876, the first refrigerated boat sailed into the town of Rouen from Argentina, signalling the arrival of modern trade. The old world of barges and medieval church spires sits cheek-by-jowl with the new world and its factory chimneys to the left. Water takes on a reflective quality, as it is used to mirror the buildings above.
The Gare St-Lazare was my school run terminus station every morning when I lived in the suburbs of Paris. Monet also used the Gare St-Lazare to get in and out of the city from the suburb of Argenteuil, where he had settled with his family. The station’s man-made structures fill the sky above, but paradoxically, the painting is reminiscent of a landscape with its steamy, translucent clouds taking centre stage.
It was Renoir who introduced Monet to the Italian Riviera where he would spend three months during the winter of 1884, in the town of Bordighera. He came here for the light and the lush vegetation. This painting features the Garnier villa, named after its creator and owner, Charles Garnier, who built the Opera Garnier in Paris and the Monte Carlo casino.
Monet became obsessed with the western façade of the Rouen Cathedral, painting a total of 30 paintings between 1892-94. He rented space in the dressing room of a ladies’ shop across the road, from where he had the best view (one can also imagine the fleshy aspects of this bolthole). He would paint each canvas for a few minutes only, recording the light at a particular time of day. Many of his paintings are probably sequential, so he would have worked on them in rapid succession, moving from one canvas to another as the light changed.
Monet arrived in Venice in 1908 with his wife Alice. He produced 37 canvases in two months, these his last architectural works. After exhibiting them in 1912, he retreated to Giverny, where with failing eyesight, he would go on to produce some of his most famous works. He remained there until his death in 1926.
Monet and Architecture is on at the National Gallery until 29 July, 2018. #MonetArchitecture
Feature Image: detail from The Boulevard des Capucines, Paris (The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow)
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