Denver Art Museum Director Christoph Heinrich was introduced to the work of Claude Monet as a teen, and the impact it had on him remains today. It was a postcard print of the French Impressionist painter’s “Water Lilies,” one Heinrich had in his room.
“I’ll never forget it. It taught me that a painting is more than a photograph. It has its own life and it’s something that can stay with you.”
Heinrich hopes visitors — particularly children — to the museum’s “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature” exhibit, which runs through Feb. 2, 2020 also walk away with that impression.
“I would wish kids to take away … the enormous respect Monet had for nature and that is expressed in every painting,” he said.
Co-organized by the DAM and the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, the exhibit features more than 120 paintings spanning Monet’s entire career. Included are works on loan from more than 80 lenders, many of them private, from 15 countries. It is the most comprehensive U.S. exhibition of his paintings in 25 years and focuses on Monet’s relationship with nature and his never-ending search — almost an obsession — for the truth he felt nature had to share.
Monet’s pursuit of this truth took him to varied and distinct places as he purposefully sought out new landscapes and motifs, including the rugged Normandy coast, the Mediterranean, foggy London, the Netherlands and Norway.
“His search to grasp the truth of a place — of nature — is evident throughout his career,” said Angelica Daneo, chief curator and curator of European art before 1900 at the DAM. “You see this inspiring quest to get to the essence of nature.”
The exhibit follows Monet’s continuous dialogue with nature through a thematic and chronological arrangement, beginning with his earliest known painting, “View from Rouelles,” which he exhibited in 1858, when he was 18 years old. The exhibit encompasses three galleries, totaling approximately 20,000 square feet, that are divided by theme, allowing the viewer to follow notable moments in Monet’s life and career.
“Monet is truly an artist with legs in two centuries,” said Daniel Zamani, curator at the Museum Barberini. “In the late 19th century, you see his firm roots in realism and then there’s a shift in the 20th century where he abandons those conventions and becomes a trailblazer” of Abstract Expressionists.
“Visitors will gain a better understanding of Monet’s creative process and how he distanced himself from conventions associated with the traditional landscape genre of painting,” Heinrich said.
Daneo said there are many “very joyful canvases” represented.
“The coloring, the palette in these paintings really exudes light, exudes color. Really, these paintings belong to maybe what we think of quintessential Impressionism: soft, light brush stroke, vibrant colors, very strong blues, and the sort of composition that embraces the loveliness of the place,” she said during the museum’s audio tour.
The exhibit also “examine(s) the artist’s increasing abandonment of any human presence in the landscapes he created, a testimony to his commitment to isolate himself in nature. This creative process simultaneously established an intimacy with his subject, which culminated later in Giverny, where he created his own motif through meticulous planning, planting and nurturing of his flowers and plants, which he then translated onto the canvas,” according to the DAM website.
Monet purposefully sought out those landscapes, often venturing out into water in a rowboat — his love affair with the River Seine evident as he painted it throughout his career — to capture new perspectives, or experimenting with series paintings in which he painted the same scene every day at different times of day in order to capture its essence, Daneo said.
His play with color — finding multiple colors in snowy landscapes or the perpetual fog of London, for example, or his obsession and frustration with light as he attempted to capture it exactly as it was in one moment — also spotlight Monet’s intimacy with his subjects.
“Monet said in a letter, ‘At the end of the day, I want to be truthful,’” Daneo said. “The ultimate goal of Monet, if we look at his letters and his art, is getting at the truth of nature.”
Organized and curated by DAM’s Heinrich and Daneo, and Museum Barberini Director Ortrud Westheider, the exhibition’s major lenders include the Musee d’Orsay in Paris; Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The exhibition will travel to the Museum Barberini in Germany next spring.