museum shows off spring Monet collection
By Benjamin Pogany
Published March 21, 2007
The Cleveland Museum of Art
11150 East Boulevard
$15 for adults,
$10 for students, seniors and children from 6 to 18.
Call (216) 421-7350 to purchase.
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
on the heels of this winter’s spectacular exhibit on “Barcelona
& Modernity,” the Cleveland
Museum of Art already has another hit on its hands. The museum,
still closed for renovations, has put together “Monet
in Normandy,” a gorgeous collection of more than 50 canvases
by the master Impressionist.
The exhibition traces Claude Monet’s relationship
with the Normandy region of Northern France over the course of his
career. The paintings are arranged for the most part geographically,
with each room focusing on a certain region or theme. Beginning
with Monet’s more traditionally realistic paintings from the 1860s,
the exhibit follows his gradual progression into sensuality and
impressionism, finally ending with the famous water lily paintings
of the early 20th century.
The exhibit begins with two of the paintings that
helped to launch Monet’s career: “Garden at Saint-Adresse” and “Pointe
de la Héve at Low Tide.” Even this early in his career, Monet’s
technical brilliance is already evident in his use of color and
his ability to capture the motion of wind and water. Pay special
attention to the gorgeous clouds, especially where sunlight is breaking
through an overcast sky. “A Seascape – Shipping by Moonlight” is
a particularly dramatic example.
For those experiencing Monet for the first time, it
will soon become apparent that he is first and foremost a painter
of nature. Human figures in his paintings are tiny and loosely rendered,
and disappear from his work altogether around the mid-1880’s. Besides,
the people present in “Monet in Normandy” are mostly bourgeois tourists,
spending their holiday in France’s first tourist region. To wonder
who they are, or what Monet is trying to say about society is beside
Better instead to watch the progression of Monet’s
style. Through the 1870s and 80s his forms grow less distinct and
his palette lighter, as his concern for traditional realism fades.
At the same time, his focus on the sea, already a regular theme
in his work, begins to blossom into an obsession. The number of
buildings and ships decreases drastically, and the slice of the
sea visible on each canvas grows, finally culminating in “Waves
Breaking” and “A Stormy Sea” from 1881, which are nothing more than
water and sky.
Since there are few works from the 1870s in the exhibit,
the transition from realism to impressionism seems a bit sudden.
Stepping into the first room of Monet’s paintings from Pourville
is almost like stepping into an exhibit of another painter. The
forms in “Low Tide at Pourville” are so soft that the painting nearly
looks like a watercolor. At this point, start to stand back from
the canvases and let the focus of your eyes relax a bit. Monet’s
concern is no longer with photographic detail, but rather with atmosphere
and sensuality. Imagine the physical sensations of nature – the
feeling of wind or sunlight, the smell of grass or sea air.
The second half of the exhibition features a number
of Monet’s so-called series paintings, which portray a single subject
with different conditions, lighting and points of view. Many critics
seem to prefer the misty, shimmering grainstacks series, but I personally
think that the series of paintings of rock arches from Étretat is
more varied and more interesting. To get a quick sense of what Monet
was trying to accomplish with his series paintings, compare the
rough, detailed “The Manneporte” with the softer, nearly abstract
“Waves at the Manneporte.”
Also be sure not to miss “Rouen Cathedral Façade and
Tour d’Albane (morning effect),” the lone representative of Monet’s
Rouen Cathedral series, and my favorite painting of the exhibition.
Monet uses an extremely rough surface to portray the cathedral
forming out of the fog just at dusk. The effect is indescribable – only the most
basic architectural features can be made out, but the painting somehow
conveys the impression that more detail is appearing as the daylight
In the next room, I also felt a fondness for “Snow
Effect at Giverny” from 1893. With the harshest part of winter no
more than a month behind us, I couldn’t help but back to the feeling
of staring out a window into the distance during a snowstorm. By
the turn of the century, Monet was at his most impressionistic,
at times coming near to outright abstraction.
The exhibition closes with a vast display of Monet’s
famous water lily paintings, of which he created hundreds at his
home in Giverny from 1900 until his death in 1926. At the risk of
exposing my own ignorance, I’ll admit that Monet’s water lilies
have always put me to sleep. Monet’s later work is purely mood and
atmosphere, and I find myself longing for some tiny realistic detail
to latch onto. Still, do make it a point to enjoy the massive “Water
Lilies (Agapanthus),” CMA’s own contribution.
Unlike “Barcelona,” which spoke to the viewer’s intellect
and aesthetic taste, “Monet in Normandy” is a feast for the senses.
The massive, fragrant flower display set up on the way into the
exhibit parallels the sense impressions evoked by the paintings,
and the spring weather coming up will soon do the same. Overall,
“Monet in Normandy” is a well-timed, well-executed exhibition, so
make it a point to visit.
“Monet in Normandy” runs through May 20th.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday
and Sunday, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and
Saturday. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students, seniors and children
from 6 to 18. CMA members
and children under 5 are admitted free.
For more information or tickets, call 1-888-CMA-0033 or 216-421-7350.