The exhibition "Claude Monet: Journey to Series Paintings" will open at Tokyo's Ueno Royal Museum on October 20. The exhibition features more than 60 artworks by the celebrated French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926).
To fully appreciate the depths of his works, I visited Monet's house in Giverny in the Normandy region. There, the great artist spent a significant portion of his life.
As I passed through the gates, I was welcomed by the sight of a pink rose arch beyond the house. One of Monet's iconic paintings, House Among the Roses, was brought to life before my very eyes.
Beyond the bamboo grove, a vast pond stretched out. White water lilies that Monet adored floated on the water's surface, which reflected the lush greenery like a mirror. The ripples on the pond sparkled under the gentle caress of the wind.
Giverny is located approximately 80 kilometers (50 mi) west of Paris along the Seine River. It is a small rural village that basks in the gentle sunlight of northern France. Monet was captivated by the village's landscape and made it his home in 1883 when he was 42. He poured his passion into his garden, considering it the wellspring of his creativity.
Monet's iconic Water Lilies series comprises more than 250 pieces created during his lifetime. Reflecting on the moment of inspiration, he said, "It took me a long time to understand my water lilies [...] I grew them without thinking of painting them [...] And then, all of a sudden, I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette."
A Master of Light
Director Érik Desmazières of Musée Marmottan Monet, which houses a vast collection of Monet's works, describes the artist as "a painter of light."
Desmazières explains, "He tried to capture the ever-changing play of light from morning to evening by painting the landscape reflected on the water's surface." It was this relentless pursuit that ultimately gave rise to his iconic Water Lilies.
Monet's approach of creating "series paintings" was established with Haystacks. During one of his walks in Giverny, Monet's attention was drawn to a stack of hay in a nearby field. What intrigued him was how this otherwise ordinary rural scene transformed throughout the different seasons and times of the day. He captured the ceaseless transformation by positioning multiple canvases side by side. Haystacks garnered critical acclaim and marked a significant milestone in Monet's career.
Monet and Ukiyo-e
Monet's art, which captures moments in nature, also drew inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). During the late 19th century, when Japonism swept across Europe, Monet amassed a collection of over 200 woodblock prints. He was captivated by their use of bold compositions to portray nature. The Japanese-style bridge in the Water Lily Pond is believed to have been inspired by the arched bridge depicted in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Utagawa Hiroshige.
Monet's Life Through His Paintings
Desmazières explains, "Monet's enduring popularity as a painter can also be attributed to his remarkable longevity. He lived to be 86 years old and left behind over 2,000 works. His life is mirrored in the evolution of his artistic style."
Indeed, Monet's focus changed throughout his life. As a young struggling artist, his art often portrayed his family. The Luncheon, which Monet painted in his 20s, captures a lively scene at the family dining table, with his eldest son Jean at the center. It radiates warmth and happiness.
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Monet moved to London to evade conscription. Even after returning to France, he made regular visits to England. During this time, he produced paintings of London, including the iconic Waterloo Bridge.
In 1914, Jean passed away, and World War I began. The shadow of war loomed over the northern French town of Giverny. Seeking solace during these dark times, Monet immersed himself in creating Water Lilies. It is said that the weeping willows on his canvases express grief and loss for the victims of the war.
A Special Year
Impressionists such as Claude Monet were masters at capturing the effects of light and atmosphere using vibrant colors. At the age of 33, Monet, along with fellow artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, hosted the First Impressionist Exhibition to usher in a new era of art. The year 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of that event.
Actress Kyoko Yoshine, who provided audio guidance for the Claude Monet exhibition in Tokyo, went to France to explore the places that had a significant impact on Monet's life and art, including Giverny. Her experience will be broadcast in a special program, which will air on Fuji TV (Kanto region) on November 11.
"Claude Monet: Journey to Series Paintings" will run until January 28, 2024. After some adjustments to the artwork selection, the exhibition will move to the Nakanoshima Art Museum, Osaka from February 10 to May 6, 2024.
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