Impressionist master Claude Monet (1840-1926) retreated to Giverny, the small village northwest of Paris, in 1883, and then spent the next 43 years experimenting with landscape and garden painting, creating works that are among the most recognizable in Western art. Through a selection of 12 major paintings on view February 4 through May 13, 2012 at the Cincinnati Art Museum
the sole venueMonet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection examines the range of Monets work in Giverny in terms of reflectionas motif and as the self-conscious practice of painting. Monet himself writes of struggling with self-expression in his attempts to depict the varied reflections he saw on the surface of his lily pond. His later career is also marked by a more considered working method, and by paintings that create contemplative atmospheres that invite reflection about painting itself.
Organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum, Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection juxtaposes major paintings from important American collections to trace an artistic journey, from early Impressionist-inflected landscapes of waterways outside Giverny to serial depictions of specific garden motifs, to the immersive environment of large-scale works such as the late wisterias.
As a painter Monet conceived of reflection critically: he adapted reflective effects while mobilizing a complex of associations and analogiesfor example that between a painting and a mirror, explains Benedict Leca, exhibition curator and curator of European painting, sculpture and drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum. In that sense reflection touches on the artists self-definition as well as our own when we peer at or into Monets paintings to apprehend them.
Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection tells a chronological narrative of artistic self-discovery whereby Monet adapted the Impressionists frenetic naturalismwhich sought a record of shifting atmospheric conditionsto an ever more meditative practice focused on painting and its effects. The exhibition opens with three Seine river scenes that demostrate Monets variability in giving meaning to aquatic motifs. A striking plein-air painting from the Columbus Museum of Art shows the silvery currents of the river Epte near its juncture with the Seine outside Giverny, harking back to the moving waters so often featured in Monets earlier Impressionist paintings. Its inverse, the cool tones of a Seine morning scenea masterpiece from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from Monets important series of mornings on the Seineachieves a mood through the hazy atmosphere created by the doubled reflection of sky and water and Monets smoothened paint application.
Monets technical preoccupations come to their first culmination in the serial paintings of the 1890s. The exhibition presents two paintings an exceptional pair separated by some twenty five yearsdepicting the first motif Monet extracted from his garden and treated in a series, the Japanese footbridge: one is the earliest known footbridge painting dating to the mid-1890s, the other a contrasting late-career work of a radically different design. In the earlier footbridge, Monet relies on the reflection to further a compositional balance, while the later version presents a reflection reduced in prominence and applied to a heavily painted abstraction of the bridge and water.
Four masterpiece water lily paintings illustrate Monets continuing engagement with this signature motif, the essence of which was for him
the mirror of water whose appearance alters at every moment. In the water lilly painting from Dayton, a silvery water surface mirrors a sky of shifting clouds, an illusion punctuated by wisteria leaves daubed on the picture surface to remind us of the artists presence. In two exceptional water lilies from Denver and Houston, we witness the variety and complexity of Monets experimentation as we peer into murky aquatic worlds and behold the infinite reaches of the reflected sky. The last water lily, a large late-career painting, brings us a closely focused view of the pond surface and lily pads, a perspective linking it to the great cycles of Monets grandes decorations.
The exhibition culminates with two oversize depictions of wisterias, paintings originally conceived to hang above the enormous wall-sized cycles of painted water lilies of Monets last years. The two exhibited paintingsbrought together for the first time since they were in Monets studio as part of the same discrete series undertaken around 1920combine to make up a garland of wisterias nearly twenty feet long. Monet here conflates sky and water to create a reflective, surrounding atmosphere that makes clear the debt owed by contemporary art to Monet and his immersive environments.
CAM director, Aaron Betsky, adds: We are delighted to bring this exceptional grouping of Monet masterpieces to the Midwest and to illuminate these iconic works anew as part of our ongoing program of in-depth exhibitions treating some of the great chapters of European painting.
Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection is organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. The exhibition is curated by Benedict Leca, curator of European painting, sculpture and drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The CAM gratefully acknowledges corporate support from Frischs Restaurants, CFM, SA France, the Selz Foundation and the European-American Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati and its members.
Published by Giles Limited, London, the fully illustrated catalog accompanying the exhibition features essays by Benedict Leca, Lynne D. Ambrosini of the Taft Museum, Andria Derstine of the Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin College, and by Beth E. Wilson, a specialist at SUNY, New Paltz. The essays explore the importance of Monets garden as a continuing source of reflective inspiration, and examine his work in Giverny in the context of developments in painting and photography. A firsthand account of the garden, written in 1891 by French art critic Octave Mirbeau, has been translated by author Benedict Leca and is illustrated in the catalog with historic photographs of Monet in his garden.