The Ultimate Impressionist
Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond (Le Bassin aux Nymphéas), about 1918
Monet, beloved father of French Impressionism, will be celebrated at the Denver Art Museum in the most comprehensive exhibition of his paintings in the United States in more than two decades. Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature run from October 21, 2019, through February 2, 2020. It features at least 120 paintings spanning his entire career and focuses on his enduring relationship with nature and was organized with the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany. The DAM is the only venue in the United States for this exhibition.
Monet’s art will be shown in a chronological and thematic arrangement from his early art in the traditional landscape style to the revolutionary impressionist work of his later years. If you love Monet and Impressionist art—or even if you don’t know much about either one—this blockbuster show is not to be missed.
Origins of a Movement
Impressionism was a radical art movement that began in the mid-1800s and lasted into the early 20th century in France. It is characterized by the revolutionary method of quick brush strokes to capture natural light and color outdoors and create an “impression” of a scene.
Although Monet became the undisputed master of Impressionism and revolutionized artistic practice forever, he didn’t invent the style. Like-minded contemporaries including Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, and others also used it.
However, conservative art critics and jurists rejected the Impressionists’ shift away from traditional painting styles, leading the rogue artists to hold their own independent exhibitions, the first in 1874. After being continually rejected by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, a group made up of Monet, August Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley organized together as the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. They adopted the name “Impressionists” from the title of Monet’s first exhibited painting, Impression, Sunrise, a scene from a port in Le Havre. This came about after an art critic referred to the en plain air painters as “Impressionists.” The name stuck.
Portrait of an Artist
Monet (1840–1926) was born in Paris and later moved with his family to Le Havre in the Normandy region of France. He began drawing at age seven, and by 11, he was selling his charcoal caricatures of local folk. His father wanted him to go into the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to be an artist.
It was an arduous journey. He did not like school and was disillusioned with the traditional art taught in the various art schools he attended. It did not help that his father refused to support him financially in his artistic pursuit. In 1857 at the age of 16, following the death of his mother and against his father’s wishes, Monet went to live with his widowed aunt who encouraged his art.
Then, in a fortuitous encounter in 1858, Monet met Eugène Boudin, one of the first French landscape painters to paint the actual scenes before him in the open air. Boudin became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. He encouraged Monet to paint en plain air rather than the accepted practice of working in a studio. It changed Monet’s life.
He became infatuated with light and color and would paint the same scene over and over to show the way it changed given the time of day and season. “Color is my daylong obsession,” he said.
Over the next 20 years, Monet struggled to become recognized, often living in near poverty and battling depression. During this period, he had an ongoing relationship with Camille Doncieux, his muse and favorite model. One of Monet’s successful early paintings was a portrait of Camille, Woman in the Green Dress, which was well received by the Salon de Paris. They married in 1870 and had two sons. Camille died in 1879.
His second wife, Alice Hoschedé, had been living with the Monets, and after Camille’s death, she helped raise Monet’s two sons in Paris along with her own six children. Twelve years after Camille’s death, Monet and Alice were married.
After years of traveling throughout Europe and moving from place to place, Monet discovered Giverny in 1883. It became his paradise and, in the truest sense, home. By then, he was wealthy enough from his art to buy a house and support his family.
In Giverny, Monet created his beloved gardens and the water lily ponds that became his creative oasis and, ultimately, his legacy. They were the inspiration for his last and most famous series: Les Nymphèas, the water lilies. “I must have flowers—always and always. My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece,” he said.
The 250 paintings of the lilies are in museums around the world. But his most famous are in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, which was rebuilt to accommodate them. The eight massive canvases are more than six feet high and, if lined up side by side, would measure nearly 300 feet. Monet presented the series as a gift to France in 1922.
The DAM exhibition includes many of his iconic works, such as Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge and The House Seen through the Roses, one of his final works completed in 1926 before his death from lung cancer.
This stunning exhibition, which took three years to bring to fruition, will be shown in the amazing Hamilton Building.