Exhibition at Albertina Museum presents 100 paintings by Claude Monet

artdaily_VIENNA.- This autumn, the Albertina Museum is mounting Austria’s first broad-based presentation of works by Claude Monet (1840–1926 ) in over 20 years. The 100 paintings being shown include important loan works from over 40 international museums and private collections such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the National Gallery London, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

This retrospective presentation, realized with generous support from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, illuminates Monet’s development from realism to impressionism and onward to a mode of painting in which colors and light gradually separate from the subjects that reflect them, with the motif as such breaking free from the mere observation of nature. As a consequence, the artist’s late works would come to pave the way for abstract expressionism in painting.

Monet, the “Master of Light”

“A panorama of water and water lilies, of light and sky,” the collector René Gimpel noted in his diary on August 19, 1910 after paying a visit together with the art dealer Georges Bernheim to Claude Monet in Giverny, where he saw “a dozen canvases placed one after another in a circle on the ground, all about six feet wide by four feet high.” This rencontre with Claude Monet took place in a high-ceilinged studio filled with light and air, which the painter had built on his property in Giverny to work on his ideas for the so-called Grandes Décorations, which he later donated to the French state. What Gimpel saw were smaller, easily movable canvases, which were preliminary works for this endeavor. Monet, who originally planned a circular installation of his water lily pond paintings in the Hotel Biron in Paris, had arranged them accordingly. His plan was abandoned after 1920, however, in favor of a realization in two oval rooms of the Orangerie.

The painting from the Batliner Collection in the Albertina Museum, The Water - Lily Pond , is one of these preparatory works, some of which were sold during Monet’s lifetime. After the death of Michel Monet, the son and sole heir of Claude Monet, the Académie des BeauxArts in Paris acquired the Impressionist’s estate.

Nearly ninety paintings, many of which Claude Monet had guarded with utmost care, were to find a new home—as Michel Monet stipulated in his last will—“in the Musée Marmottan [as] the largest and most beautiful Monet collection.” It is therefore fortunate that the Albertina Museum has found a partner in the Musée Marmottan Monet, which has provided forty of its most splendid paintings by Monet for this exhibition. For a short time, the Albertina Museum’s Water-Lily Pond finds itself in the midst of those paintings, in the context of which it was created at the time. With two other works from the Batliner Collection, which Monet painted in Vétheuil and Giverny, as well as over fifty paintings on loan from about forty international institutions and works from private collections, the exhibition traces the life and work of Claude Monet with paintings that are both lavish and colorful, and yet at times also astonishingly chromatically reserved.

Precious international loans

The motif for this exhibition’s poster is the monumental work On the Boat, which Monet painted on the water in 1887; it is being shown courtesy of the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Moscow’s Pushkin Museum is contributing one of the two versions of the Boulevard des Capucines (1873), a strongly elevated view of Paris’s busiest commercial area that lets one take in the big city’s swarming, scintillating, motion-filled atmosphere. As with the nature in Monet’s landscapes, this street is a place of constant activity that changes according to the time of day, the atmosphere, and the weather.

Among the impressive loan works, many of which are in large formats, there is also the Grainstack in Sunlight (1891, on loan from Kunsthaus Zürich), which Kandinsky saw in an exhibition on French impressionism and greatly admired. Despite his enthusiasm, however, Kandinsky had difficulty recognizing the motif—an effect that presaged Monet’s emancipation of colors and the advent of abstract painting

Further highlights are Monet’s early winter paintings, including the portrait The Red Kerchief (1873, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA); two paintings of Rouen Cathedral from an extensive series that he created before this Gothic national monument that would themselves become icons of impressionism; and several paintings of the river Creuse in the Massif Central region done in very nasty weather that are pioneering in terms of their composition and use of color. And from near the end of Monet’s life, by which point his eyesight was severely impaired and he limited himself to working in his garden at Giverny, this exhibition presents The Japanese Bridge (1918–1924) and his The House Among the Roses.

Water as a source of inspiration

“A Floating World” is the evocative subtitle of the exhibition in the Albertina Museum, the artist’s first large-scale retrospective in Vienna in more than twenty years. The Seine was a home to the pleinairist—both in terms of his various residences and his studio boat, from which he sought to capture the nature and life of the river and its shores with his paintbrush, regardless of the weather conditions.

Guided by one hundred paintings, the exhibition visitor follows in the footsteps of the most important Impressionist along the Seine, pausing at various stations of his life: in Paris, where Monet captured the pulse of modern life with flickering light; in Argenteuil, where he reconciled nature and technology; in Vétheuil, where, in the face of his precarious financial and family situation, he withdrew into solitude to devote himself to unspoiled and original nature; and finally in Giverny, where he arrived at a new aesthetic concept that led Impressionism out of its crisis and paved the way for modern painting.

The river also stands for the many aspects that characterize Monet’s oeuvre: the flowing world of the Japanese woodblock prints that influenced Monet; the coalescing of water, mist, fog, snow, and ice; the colors that change with the weather and lighting conditions; the reflections on the water surface. The visitor also accompanies Monet to the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, to London and Norway, either to understand his beginnings in Le Havre and his repeated visits to the Atlantic coast, or to visit places together with the artist which promised him new inspiration for his painting.