Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Monet at the de Young, 2019

I just squeaked in a visit to "Monet: The Late Years" at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and I am so glad I did. The exhibit, as the title suggests, focused on his later work once he was established at Giverny and had created his beloved water lily pond, and the later additions of the Japanese foot bridge and trellis.

It was an appropriately wet and moody day when I visited and the courtyard entrance window featured a wonderful reproduction of one of his many water lily pond paintings.

While several pieces came from private collections and the permanent collections of museums here in the United States, the bulk of the exhibit came from the Musée Marmottan Monet, a museum in Paris dedicated to the works of Monet. At over three hundred pieces, the museum is the largest collection of the work of this Impressionist master. We are lucky that they decided to share the genius of this man. I have seen Monet's works in museums all over the world and there is nothing like standing in front of one of his canvases, seeing the image and comprehending that it is of, perhaps, a pond, or a foot bridge over a pond, but seeing the dichotomy of the colors and brushstrokes, the wild scribbling and glorious caked-on pigments that go to create such an image. It is always staggering to me to see the free flowing colors, and I get lost in the swirl and play of the palette of each painting. You can see some close-ups of some of the pieces interspersed with my photos below.

Via the audio tour (which was peppered with beautiful French Impressionist musical pieces), I learned that the pond at Giverny initially did not exist and he had petitioned the local council to divert water from another source to create it. He was an avid gardener and kept up the grounds of Giverny himself but the growing gardens eventually demanded more attention than he could give, so he hired eight full time gardeners to look after not only the plots and beds and trees and flowers but also the pond itself and the precious water lilies. Men would daily skim the pond and dunk the lily pads to wash off whatever dust or dirt might have accumulated on them. Monet also suffered from cataracts and at one point, his vision was down to only 10%--a devastating debilitation for a painter. But he was persuaded to have surgery and much of his eyesight returned. He spent his final years in a prolific flurry of activity, creating ambitiously large and breathtakingly beautiful canvases.

Of course Impressionists are known as "painters of light" and like many Impressionists, Monet painted the same subject again and again but at different times of day and thus in different light, resulting in almost completely different paintings. I love these four view of a weeping willow tree, but depending on whether the light was indirect or direct, during the morning, afternoon, or at dusk, the feeling and colors change dramatically.

And the same goes for these four views of the main house at Giverny, whose top (seen at left) barely peeks up over the shrubs and climbing roses.


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