Earlier this week I visited The National Gallery in London to attend the press view of their new landmark exhibition Monet and Architecture. This incredible exhibition, brings together an amazing selection of works by one of the worlds most iconic artists and I felt hugely lucky to be one of the first people to see it. The Monet and Architecture exhibition takes us on a journey through Claude Monet’s career and shows how his style developed as he grew older, reaching a final crescendo with his beautiful paintings of Venice. All the paintings feature buildings and many differ considerably to the garden scenes that are so familiar to us.
Of course I brought along Matthew my resident art historian (and brother) to help me write about the exhibition. I asked Matthew to write a review of the exhibition and this is what he thought:
For an art historian, Monet is one of those artists that you think you know, and then he always surprises you. His name and his art are world famous. Most people will know he painted beautiful landscapes, that he helped create the Impressionist style – and that he loved water lilies! This exhibition aims to give a new perspective on his art and show that painting buildings, from cottages to cathedrals, was an important part of his work. More than that, it reminded me that Monet truly deserves his great reputation, as I lost myself in the beautiful paintings on display.
This exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see paintings you’d normally collect a lot of air miles jetting around the world to see. The paintings have come from everywhere from Los Angeles to Moscow. In fact, more than a quarter of the paintings come from private collections, so unless you know some very rich people, this could be your only chance to ever see them.
As the curators have decided to hang the paintings chronologically, visitors follow Monet through his career, starting in the 1860s when the he was an ambitious artist in his 20s, experimenting with a radical new painting style. Based on working outside, and quickly capturing the scene in front of you with bold brushstrokes, Impressionism was a bold and innovative protest against conventional 19th Century art. Walking through the exhibition you can see Monet learn and develop as an artist: his colours become bolder, his brushstrokes more exciting. Look closely at the paintings and you can see his creativity at work as he conjures scenes from thousands of lively strokes of colour. Then stand back, and you realise he has perfectly captured the atmosphere of a scene of a beach, or a busy Parisian street, or a house perched on a cliff-top.
Monet lived at a time of huge change. Great cities like London and Paris grew into vast industrial metropolises, and Monet captures this. His scene of The Gare St-Lazare in the National Gallery’s own collection, shows Monet engaging with the steel, glass and steam of a great railway station. The railways allowed people to travel further and faster than ever before, and the range of locations of paintings in the exhibition shows this. As a Londoner I love seeing Monet’s views of my home city. He lived there from 1870-71 escaping the Franco-Prussian war in France. He returned to London again several times between 1899 and 1904. By this second visit he was a rich and famous artist, and painted the Thames from his balcony at the Savoy Hotel. Monet was fascinated by the effect of the sunlight through the smoggy air of the city, and captured the bold reds of sunrises and sunsets through the fog.
The exhibition feels like going on holiday with Monet, and seeing the landmarks of the destinations through his eyes. The final room takes us to Venice, where Monet stayed in 1908. Here he presents his unique view of a city famous for its architecture, its light and its reflections. In his paintings of the Grand Canal, he shows the great domed church of The Salute. However, he changes the architecture, ignoring parts of the building to the dome more simple, as it dissolves into the brilliant shimmering light. By now in his late 60s, he was a complete master of his art, and the paintings capture his personal vision of a city already famous as a tourist destination.
When Monet’s Venice paintings were displayed together in 1912 at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, visitors were reminded that no one would ever have a chance to see them assembled together again before they were sold to collectors. Monet painted the same scene over and over, changing his canvases to capture the changes in the light as the time and weather changed. The National Gallery’s curators have got as close as they can to reuniting several of his series of paintings, so that we can see the views changing just as Monet did.
The curators show that considering Monet’s painting of architecture will change the way art historians see his career. However, it is his own constant inventiveness, skill, and the pure pleasure you feel looking at his paintings, that show that just when you think you’ve worked Monet out, he can delight you in ways you never expected.
This exhibition should be very popular, so make sure you book your ticket soon.
In homage to the beautiful art, I wore my Lindy bop Venice Skirt. I might start making a habit of dressing on theme when I go to exhibitions!
I am not an art expert, but I am an art enthusiast so from my point of view I absolutely loved the selection of paintings. I really felt like I learnt a lot from the works themselves as well as the interpretation. We were lucky enough to be shown around by the curators, but there is also an audio guide available, which I would definitely recommend to make the most out of the experience.
Monet is an artist we are all familiar with, but the exhibition made me see his work in a new light and I thoroughly appreciated it. It just felt like such a treat to be able to see more than 75 paintings. The cost of a ticket for Monet and Architecture is around £20, which feels like a lot. But having spent a good few hours immersing myself in the beautiful art, I feel this is worth it.
The Monet and Architecture exhibition runs from 9th April until 28th July 2018
You can buy tickets for the Monet and Architecture exhibition on the National Gallery website.
Thank you to Matthew Storey for contributing to this post. Matthew is a curator and art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art.
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