Claude Monet: Canvases Under Construction
The National Gallery in London, long-term partner of Credit Suisse, invites you to pay a visit to Claude Monet's buildings. Step in and make yourself at home.
Mention the name Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) and people invariably think of paintings of landscapes and water lilies. Although the latter did not enjoy universal admiration to begin with, they are now extremely popular and play no small part in the fact that Monet is often considered a painter of nature. However, Monet, who, as a founding member of the Impressionists, loved to erect his easel outdoors and to paint 'en plein air', did not just devote himself to the creations of nature, but also to the creations of humankind. Time and again, buildings and constructions, grand or humble, appear in the Frenchman's work, often as an expression of human culture and creative free will. For 50 years of Monet's long career, from the 1860s to the 1910s, he painted cities and villages, monuments and homes, churches and bridges, both in his native France and on his travels around Europe.
From April 9 to July 29, the National Gallery in London is holding the first exhibition in the world to focus exclusively on the role of buildings and structures in Monet's work: "The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet & Architecture." Seventy-eight of the master's paintings will be on display for visitors. Credit Suisse is proud to continue its ten-year partnership with the National Gallery through the current Monet exhibition.
Painting Progress …
Monet's reasons for including architecture in his paintings were varied. But what is undeniable is his fascination with the new and the modern, with the dawn of an era that sparked ambitious thinking: Baron Haussmann's audacious remodeling of Paris fascinated the painter, as did the technological advancements of the industrial age: grand feats of engineering or huge stations with steam trains carrying people from A to B faster than ever before. In London, where he painted in 1870–1 and again in 1899–1901, he chose some of the city's newest and most prominent constructions.
… and Picturing the Past
Yet, Monet paid equal attention to historic buildings and famous architectural wonders, like Rouen Cathedral, Andrea Palladio's Venetian church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and more modest, vernacular cottages and cabins. Often, distinctive buildings imbue the paintings with a sense of place. At home in Normandy, the medieval church spires differentiate one village from the next. On his travels, Monet depicted windmills in the Netherlands, sun-bleached villas in the Mediterranean, and the unmistakable Grand Canal palaces of Venice.
When creating a composition, the regular forms of buildings, viewed up close or from a distance, provided contrast to the more organic forms of the surrounding landscape, and a sense of scale which could be used to dramatic effect. Monet carefully positioned his easel in relation to the scene, sometimes painting from within another building to get a high vantage point. Man-made constructions also offered Monet opportunities for bold complementary colors, the red tiles of a cottage roof offsetting the dominance of green foliage.
Same but Different
Whether Monet was concerned with painting modern life or historic buildings, his primary subject matter was always the effect of light and weather. Monet frequently painted several versions of the same motif, but varying the mood of the light so that there is a clear difference in emotional tonality between compositionally similar pictures. The façade of a building could act as a screen upon which the sunshine played; a bridge could act as a constant, to be obscured by fog, snow or rain. The exhibition in London thus offers visitors not only a riot of color, but also a fascinating interplay of light conditions depending on the time of day or changing weather. Monet demonstrates yet again his power to astonish.