This was quite an impressive exhibit, and if one is a big fan of Claude Monet, I would say it is a must-see exhibit, particularly if you are in the Midwest or even as far away as New York. I actually ran into someone else from Toronto who had come down to see the show and might even go back a second time. I am glad I went, though I would definitely do a few things differently in the future. I think I will use this post to discuss the exhibit, the next post to talk about what went wrong on the trip (many things actually) and then close on a more positive note by discussing the rest of the paintings I saw at the Cleveland Museum of Art in a third post. I actually have not been there since the remodeling & expansion, so there was quite a bit more to see, but I'll get to that later.
As one might imagine, this was an exhibit just awash in color, which was a nice contrast to the wintery landscape outside. While it wasn't particularly cold, there was snow on the ground in Cleveland and most plants have packed it in for the year.
There were a couple of nice surprises, including a painting by Cezanne and a glorious Caillebotte from a private collection where these red flowers explode out of the foreground. I assume this is in the catalog, but I won't be reunited with mine until March or so (long story). While French impressionist painting dominates the show, the second half has more conventional painting by their contemporaries (including John Singer Sargent) then moves into the post-impressionists, such as Van Gogh, Munch, Klee (while I like Klee, I thought this was a stretch), Kandinsky and Matisse. The show is sort of anchored by this last painting by Matisse, actually owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art.
|Henri Matisse, Interior with an Etruscan Vase, 1940|
While I really like this painting and spent a fair bit of time examining it, I think it is another huge stretch to say this is a "garden" painting. One critic, trying to make the connection, say that it is due to the pressures of war that the garden must be brought inside, but that still doesn't make it a garden in my view.
In terms of what is not on view, a different critics wishes that the Tate Britain had been willing to loan this painting by John Singer Sargent to the show, or to the London venue at least.
|John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, c. 1885|
Reading a bit more about the backstory behind this painting, it does seem a bit churlish not to loan it to the Royal Academy show, since Sargent was a member of the RA and in fact the RA owned the painting and eventually donated it to the museum that became the Tate Britain! I suppose it had just been loaned out before to a different show. I assume I have seen this painting in person, as I made several trips to the Tate Britain over the years, but it obviously didn't make a huge impression on me at the time. It is painted en plain air, like the Monets but stylistically it is so different that I, for one, am not devastated that it was not part of the show.
The second half of the show circles back around to Monet as he got increasingly more adventurous and even a bit abstract. He began breaking things down into shapes, and I can see where he probably influenced Cy Twombley for example and perhaps Matisse in his late water lilies sequences. Apparently, Monet was influenced by the adventurousness of Turner late in his career and started working with radical color schemes, and even unusual textures.
I found the Japanese bridge series particularly fascinating. In the first half of the show, there are two quite attractive but conventional paintings of a Japanese bridge in Monet's garden. I will just post the more famous of the two, which is in the collection of the Musee d'Orsay.
|Claude Monet, Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte, 1899|
He continued working this theme regularly, and this post is excellent at showing some of the intermediate stops along the way to these late, radical yet wonderful transformations of the bridge. Two of Monet's late bridge paintings are in the last room of the exhibit.
This one is in the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
|Claude Monet, The Japanese Bridge, 1923-25|
This one is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
|Claude Monet, Nymphéas, Japanese Bridge, 1918-26|
I actually took the time to go back to the earlier version then to see these again. They are so textured, even more than Van Gogh, that it really pays to see them in person. It is hard to believe they are from the same painter that did the painting in the Musee d'Orsay, but Monet traveled quite a distance in his artistic journey, perhaps further than most people (including me) often credit him. While I didn't see it, apparently there was a show in 1998 in Boston (and in London at the Royal Academy again) called Monet in the 20th Century, which really focused on the late bridge sequence (including these two) and quite a few of his final water lily paintings.
However, that show did not have the huge water lily triptych, which is the main reason it is so important to see this show if one loves Monet. This painting was broken up and the individual canvases are owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the St. Louis Museum of Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (I've never been to the last one but hope to some day). The three canvases are only put together every 30 years or so. I am quite surprised that they are making the trip to London, but all the more reason to go. (I do expect the crowds will probably be twice as dense as they were in Cleveland.)
This is how they look all put together:
|Claude Monet, Water Lilies (Agapanthus), ca. 1915-1926|
What is interesting is that these paintings very much follow Impressionist principles in the sense that from a distance, it is clearly a pond full of water lilies, but up close (even closer than this view of the left-hand panel, which is the one the Cleveland Museum of Art owns) they start breaking down into abstract forms.
Now this is not the only way to get a Monet fix, even at this huge scale. Now that the MoMA has expanded, they basically always have their triptych on display, but I still recall the time when this was a rare event for them to break it out of storage and put it up near the restaurant on the second floor.
|Claude Monet, Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond, ca. 1920|
I like both, though I would say that the triptych owned by MoMA is slightly more conventional than the one on view in Cleveland. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to a chance to see the Monet in New York this March. I am certainly hoping there will be fewer snags on that trip than this one, but that is a different post altogether.