An exciting exhibition of five masterworks by French Impressionist Claude Monet is on view in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery this coming spring and summer. Three paintings are coming from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris as part of an exchange agreement that sent Monet’s Water Lilies (Agapanthus) from the Cleveland Museum of Art to the exhibition Monet-Mitchell at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, in 2022. The Musée Marmottan Monet holds one of the world’s finest collections of works by Monet thanks to a generous donation by the artist’s son, Michel, and is housed in the former home of Paul Marmottan. In addition to more than 300 works by Monet, the Marmottan collection contains works by other 19th-century and modern masters, including Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso.
One of Monet’s greatest innovations was working in series. Each of the paintings in this exhibition belongs to a key series in his art. The term refers to a process of painting multiple views of the same motif observed over time at different moments in the day and under various conditions of light and weather. The process allowed Monet to focus even more intensely on capturing momentary sensations and delicately nuanced gradations of light and color. Rouen Cathedral, Sunlight Effect, End of the Day (1892) belongs to one of Monet’s most important series. In 1892–93 he painted more than 30 views of the cathedral, most depicting the facade at specific times of the day and under different conditions of light, weather, and atmosphere. Rather than viewed from a distance, the facade is brought dramatically forward and cropped at the edges in a way that reduces the complex Gothic architecture to a single, powerful shape. By keeping forms close to the surface and emphasizing the interplay of expressive brushwork and intense color, Monet transformed this renowned medieval landmark into a modern visual icon that seems to mysteriously appear and disappear in a haze of colored light.
Water Lilies (1907) is one of more than 250 views Monet painted of his water garden at Giverny. They are among the artist’s most distinctive and celebrated works. He often arose at four in the morning to capture the pond at first light and delighted in observing the water garden at specific times of the day, from early morning mists to the soft, crepuscular tones of early evening. The water garden served as the inspiration for many of his greatest paintings, including large triptychs designed to surround the viewer in a three-dimensional panorama. “It took me some time to understand my water lilies,” Monet told a visitor. “I planted them purely for pleasure. . . . And then, all at once I had the revelation—how wonderful my pond was—and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment.”1 This version belongs to a specific series that depicts the water garden in a tall, vertical format. The radical elimination of foreground and horizon, combined with the upside-down reflections of trees, produces an enchanting dreamlike effect.
In 1918, Monet returned to a subject that had preoccupied him for nearly two decades: the Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny. Monet constructed the bridge to link the banks of his water garden with the small island in the center. He painted his first view of the bridge in 1895, returned to the subject for a series of 12 paintings in 1899, and followed that with a series of 22 paintings in 1918–24. His painting Japanese Bridge (1918) in the current exhibition is among his most daringly abstract works. The viewpoint moves incredibly close to the motif, placing greater emphasis on densely compacted surfaces of expressive brushwork and color, so that the bridge nearly disappears under overlapping skeins of thickly encrusted paint and strokes of free, gestural color. The audacious dissolution of form announced a new moment of radical experimentation for an artist in his 80s.
1. Quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet, exh. cat. (Vienna: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, 1996), 146.