Kimball Museum Fetes Monet

FORT WORTH, TX.- This groundbreaking exhibition is the first ever devoted to the young genius of Claude Monet. Monet: The Early Years will feature approximately 60 paintings from the first phase of the artist’s career, from his Normandy debut in 1858 until 1872, when he settled in Argenteuil, on the River Seine near Paris.

On the strength of his invention of a highly personal and distinctive mode of painting, the young man positioned himself as an artist to be recognized and to be reckoned with. Monet: The Early Years examines this period in depth, through the greatest examples of his painting—drawn from museums in the United States, Europe and Japan.

The Kimbell’s own Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, pictured here, inspired the project. The stormy beach scene was the first painting that Monet submitted to the annual official exhibition— called the Salon—in 1865.

Redolent with the atmosphere of the sea at Le Havre, where Monet grew up, this painting was an enlargement, a perfected version, of the kinds of paintings Monet had begun to sketch on site, taking his canvas and paints to the edge of the land to record the transitory effects of climate and the elements.

In the next year, the 25-year-old Monet planned to exhibit a huge canvas of a group of revelers picnicking in the forest of Fontainebleau, one of the mythic sites of French landscape painting. Stymied by the scale of the painting and pressed for time, Monet abandoned it. He later cut the canvas down—it would have been 13 by 18 feet—but he kept two huge fragments all his life, displaying one of them prominently in his studio as proof of his youthful ambition to render the shapes and patterns of light falling across the landscape.

The painting, his 1866 Luncheon on the Grass, is one of his most celebrated works. Its panels are among the eight paintings on loan to the exhibition from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Master of Light

Monet was very soon the master of light. Monet: The Early Years gathers together closely related canvases to show his experiments with painting architecture in Paris (pictures from Berlin, The Hague and Oberlin, OH) or the broad expanse of the ocean in Normandy (masterworks from New York, Copenhagen and Williamstown, MA).

He was also a master of atmosphere, whether painting a summer day in his family’s elegant flower garden (Adolphe Monet Reading in a Garden, private collection) or on a snowy Normandy farm, the locale of his beloved landscape The Magpie (Musée d’Orsay).

As the 1860s came to a close, Monet experimented with ever-bolder painting techniques, increasing the size of his brushstrokes and simplifying and strengthening the underpinnings of his compositions; at the same time, his paintings could be extraordinarily delicate. This dichotomy is revealed in two still lifes from 1869, Bouquet of Flowers from the J. Paul Getty Museum and Rougets from the Harvard Art Museums.

Future Wife

Several canvases depicting his companion and future wife, Camille Doncieux, show the variations in the young Monet’s style between 1866 and 1871.

She is one of the models for Luncheon on the Grass, and in The Red Cape (Cleveland Museum of Art) she looks back at the painter from outside a window, the sight of her hooded cape providing a brilliant touch of color in the wintry gray composition.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt was painted in the summer of 1868 (Art Institute of Chicago). Camille sits beside the river as if contemplating the surface of the water and the reflections of buildings on the opposite bank.

Two years later, in July or August of 1870, the newlywed Madame Monet is shown during her honeymoon, on the beach at the Normandy resort of Trouville (Yale University Art Gallery and Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris). The contemplative portrait Meditation (Musée d’Orsay) shows her in the sitting room of the couple’s London lodgings; they had fled to England during the Franco-Prussian War.

The Monets returned to Paris via Holland, where Camille is probably the model for one of the figures in The Landing Stage (private collection), a scene of fashionable men and women beside a canal at Zaandam.

Argenteuil

By early 1872, the Monets had settled in Argenteuil, along the Seine, a few miles (and a short train journey) from central Paris. There, Monet explored a range of subjects— including still lifes, among the most beautiful of his career.

His brushstrokes could range from bold and graphic, as when he painted the Argenteuil bridge under repair (private collection, Canada), to smaller and more delicate, as when he painted an apple orchard in bloom (The Union League Club, Chicago). But his attention came back again and again to the water and sky and the relation between the two.

When he painted the Musée d’Orsay’s Regatta at Argenteuil—a brilliantly simplified sketch from nature, a true “impression”—he had come to the end of this part of his life’s journey—arguably the most revolutionary period of his career.

Beginning when the artist is 17 and concluding when he is only 31, Monet: The Early Years chronicles that journey with paintings filled with all the ambition and vibrancy of the artist’s youth.

Following its visit to the Kimbell Monet: The Early Years will be shown at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, February 25–May 29, 2017.