Historic Context Lends Brilliance to Monet's Works Art Institute of Chicago Undertakes a Major Retrospective of the Impressionist Painter

Article excerpt

IT is difficult, upon entering the Art Institute of Chicago's ambitious retrospective, "Claude Monet: 1840-1926," not to be swept up by the sheer freshness and intensity of the paintings.

In the first gallery, sunlight filters through a lush forest and brilliantly illuminates outspread linen, ripe fruit, and a woman's flounced dress in "Luncheon on the Grass" (1865-66). Begun when Monet was only 24, this life-sized masterpiece - on display for the first time outside Europe - is a stunning start to the Art Institute's exclusive show.

The exhibition - the largest of Monet paintings ever held - brings together 159 oil paintings and works on paper from more than a dozen countries, including many pieces from private collections rarely seen by the public. The show opened July 23 and runs through Nov. 26.

Chicago ties

That Chicago should host such an unprecedented retrospective of Monet is fitting. In 1895, the Art Institute was the first museum in the world to stage a solo exhibition of Monet's works. Monet at the time was "already very much in favor among the lords and ladies of Chicago art," explains Art Institute spokesman John Foley Hindman.

One hundred years later, the Institute is looking back over Monet's entire 65-year career with the aim of presenting the artist "whole."

Paintings are grouped to represent every major period of the artist's life. They include early seascapes and landscapes, as well as the later parliament, wheat-stack, and waterlilies series. While many are brilliant, some of the works are drab and less appealing. Nevertheless, in their ensemble, they vividly demonstrate the relationship between Monet's art and his incessant, pioneering experimentation as a leading Impressionist.

The paintings chronicle how Monet, using a variety of settings and techniques, captured fleeting "impressions," or glances, on canvas with a few flickering brushstrokes. Monet, who loved painting out-of-doors, once explained his basic philosophy this way:

"When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field .... Merely think here is a little square of blue, here is an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own naive impression of the scene before you."

Monet's genius in depicting the ephemeral is apparent in "The Stroll" (1875), a painting of his wife, Camille, and her son Jean as they stand on the crest of a grassy hill against a sunny wind-swept sky. …

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