Oscar-Claude Monet (1840 –1926) is one of my favorite painters. As part of the celebrations of Le French May this year, an exhibition of 17 of his paintings was held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum this year. It will be last day tomorrow. So off I went to Shatin today.
First we had a short documentary on his life. Within 2.5 minutes, we had a brief introduction of his life and times: he came from a Parisian family of grocers but preferred a simple and modest life. He is a tough and uncompromising man, a good father, a considerate husband and faithful friend of the author Octave Mirbeau, the politician George Clémenceau and the artist Auguste Renoir and the founder of the so-called Impressionist style of painting starting in the 1870's.
This is Étretat, the famous cliff in Normandy where he painted one of his famous paintings. There are three recurrent elements in his paintings: earth, water, sky and through all three the effect of light. He grew up in Normandy and in 1890, bought a house in Giverny where he remained until he died in 1926. "Everyday, I discover even more beautiful things. It is intoxicating to me. I want to paint them all", he wrote to Fréderic Bazille, a fellow painter in 1874 .
One of his earlier paintings of Étretat.
Another one of his paintings of the same cliff much later. He paints not the cliff as such. The cliff served merely as the jumping off point for the expression of his subjective feeling of the place according to his mood.
He was also fond of painting the countryside of Britanny.
Ice crystals in winter.
The frozen river.
The Seine at Vétheuil (1879-1880). The woods of Le Chesnay appears on the hill to the right. It was here that Monet started to experiment with the effect of light on the landscape.
Monet lived and worked the area between the rivers Seine and Oise from the 1860 until 1883 and painted the rapidly changing countryside there as industrialization went apace. He first started painting with the artist Eugène Boudin in 1858. In 1871, he moved to a house with a garden in Argenteuil and in 1878 moved together with his newly wed wife Camille Doncieux (whom he married in 1870) and first child Jean to Verteuil, a village in a valley facing Lavacourt, on the other side of the River Seine, a place much more rustic and much more to his taste than Argenteuil.
The break-up of the ice at the river Seine at Vétheuil, Facing Lavacourt 1880 shortly after the death of his first wife Camille Conceiux. The color is sombre. Despite temperatures of minus 25 degree Celsius, Monet never stopped painting.
Springtime 1882., another of his paintings of the countryside there: the effect of light in the spring rain.
The Railways Station at Argenteuil 1872. The railways station was built there in 1863 as part of the Paris (St. Lazare)- Mantes la Jolie Line, itself part of various schemes for the construction of national railways and urbanization of France under the 2nd Empire of Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. This painting foreshadows his series of painting on Gare St. Lazare in 1877.
Gare St. Lazare, Paris 1877
Gare St. Lazare, Paris 1877
A painting of the countryside. One sees the increasing lack of details and more the effect of the color as a mood inducing element.
The Road to Giverny in Winter 1885. This is one of the four such paintings. This painting is owned by a private collector in Hong Kong!
The Magpie, 1868-69 in which we find Monet trying to explore the effect of light and contrasts.
This is the Westminster Abbey, London. He first went there in 1870. studied under John Constable and William Turner and began to explore with the effect of light. In 1899, he went there again when his second son Michel went there to study English.
He painted a series of the Westminster Abbey in different lighting conditions during fogs and mists , with diffused sunlight etc. He discovered that the dark areas are not really dark but somehow always takes on a little of the color of its surrounding colors.
House of Parliament 1904, which he saw from the balcony of St. Thomas Hospital. One of the series showing the golden glow of sunlight on the surface of the River Thames. The Houses of Parliament are reduced to a blur.
Gondola in Venice 1908, painted a few days before he left the city, a gift to his friend George Clemenceau. There one sees the pure effect of light and almost no details of the gondola and its background. He considered Venice too beautiful to be painted. Nevertheless he did a number of paintings of the façades of the palaces there and of the obligatory San Marco Cathedral.
Another one of his earlier works, probably of Le Havre in Normandy whither his family moved in 1845.
This is his famous garden at Giverny, where in 1890, he bought the house he rented since 1883 and spent enormous sums to build a garden to its south in 1893 and had a pond built there planted with Japanese lilies in white, mauve, pink and green. The original pond was in stages enlarged to three times its original size. He also had irises, reeds, willow trees, maples, bamboo, peonies and rhododendrons there. Monet is an excellent gardener himself.and headed a team of five gardeners led by Félix Breuil. This inspired his series of water lily paintings.
The water lilies at that pond, the subject of numerous paintings for two decades and
Another one of his earlier painting of his garden. As he grew older, details were progressively omitted.
The water lilies have become mere effects of light upon water and turned into tapestry by Monet's friend Gustave Geoffrey 1911-1913 based upon three paintingslent him by Mone.
a photo of a painting of the famous Japanese bridge in his garden and part of the pond there
a black and white photo of the Japanese bridge with the painter at the right
Wisteria 1919-1920. Hidden in the background is his favorite Japanese bridge
It was Monet who started a style of painting landscapes directly on to the canvas by daubs without first mixing the color and without having first a sketch and then later painting in the colors as was done previously. The school of painting he started, called "impressionists" who painted the shadows blue or violet rather than grey or black, The name "Impreessionism" is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris. Often he would paint the same scene many times so as to capture its mood under different lighting conditions.
Recreation of the effect of the surface of Monet's water lily pond in his Japanese "Water Garden"
A recreation of the Japanese bridge at the exhibition with projected image of the garden against one of the walls.
another of such effects.
more of the same
The entrance to the second room featuring Monet's garden
A light show to recreate certain effects of Monet's garden
Another one of the giant light projections
light projection on the ground
another one such
Another light projection, Looks rather artificial and digital.
One of the smaller paintings of the Japanese bridge. I remember seeing one of gigantic Water Lily paintings at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux for the first time many many years go whilst there was a temporary exhibition of his works there. My jaws dropped. It seemed that the green color in there lept out from the frame. I stood before it, transfixed, unable to say a single word for several minutes. I was dazed. For the first time, I learned the power of a painting to overwhelm. I could never ever forget that the rest of my life. It shocked me into loving great paintings.
children having fun admiring the flowers in that garden
part of Monet's collection of Japanese prints
Some of the pottery done by Monet?
A close up of one of the samurais.
A Japanese lady looking at herself in the mirror
La femme au Parasol 1875 Madame Monet and her son?
One of his few painting of ballerinas.
One of his few indoor still life of domestic food
One of his sketches of a cafe in Paris
A self-explanatory light show
Staircase to the Spirit of Place
The exhibition is very well planned and it's obvious that a lot of thought has been put into the relevant presentations. But it's a real pity that many of the most important bigger paintings of Monet were not amongst the exhibits. But of course.: the cost of the insurance would have been prohibitive otherwise.