Exhibition layout brings Monet to life

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Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise”, 1872, oil on canvas, 50cm x 65cm, from the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Art / “Monet: Impression Sunrise”, at the National Gallery of Australia, until September 1. Reviewed by JOHN LANDT.

THE diffuse light of the early morning sun as it is refracted by the mist and reflected by the placid water is a familiar sight to the hardy rowers out early on Lake Burley Griffin.

This was also the subject of one of the most famous of Claude Monet’s paintings “Impression Sunrise” of 1872, which is the highlight of this exhibition. In this painting he depicts an orange sun rising through the smoke and mist that shroud the chimneys and cranes of the working port at Le Havre.

This was a confronting subject in a period when most landscapes pictured idyllic pastoral scenes, often with classical references, and was at the time the subject of harsh commentary. “Impression Sunrise” still has a strong presence nearly 150 years later.

Monet was fascinated by the interaction of light and water. Often, a small source of warm light brings to life an otherwise monochrome scene, as when the lights of a locomotive loom from a scene shrouded in snow and grey mist in “The train in the snow” of 1875.

Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies” [Nymphéas] c. 1914–17, oil on canvas, 181 x 201.6 cm. National Gallery of Australia
The exhibition contains works from different stages of Monet’s long career, including many from the collection of the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. They include two versions of “Waterlilies”. The first from 1903 is predominantly green and blue, the second from 1917-19 is a sketchy treatment of the warm coloured lilies and creates a vibrant effect. The nearby work from the NGA’s own collection creates a strange sense of vertigo as the dark border in the foreground pushes away while the light colours at the top of the picture pull the viewer into the pond.

The exhibition also includes works by other artists, providing the context in which Monet was working. These include works by Eugène Boudin, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet and James McNeill Whistler. There is a lovely landscape by Camille Corot from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia and also a number of fine works by JMW Turner from the Tate Gallery in London. One final note is on the thoughtful layout of the exhibition, which allows many of the works by Monet to be viewed from a distance, which is when they truly come to life.

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