Clark Art Institute/Yale University Press, 313 pp., $65.00
Claude Monet and His Posterity
Yomiuri Shimbun, 278 pp.
Rizzoli, 192 pp., $45.00
Claude Monet (1840–1926): A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff
344 pp., $85.00 (paper)
In May this year, art-minded travelers could have seen four Monet exhibitions on successive days, going from the Wildenstein gallery in New York to the Cleveland Museum of Art, to London’s Royal Academy of Arts, and then to Tokyo’s new National Art Center. That four shows of Monet’s work could be mounted at the same time is possible because he was so remarkably productive: 2,044 oils, 515 drawings, and 108 pastels have been cataloged.1 Each institution had good choices with little need to compromise. Even Picasso, who was equally productive, has not matched the number of Monet’s recent appearances before the public. In the eight years beginning in 2000, in the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia, Monet has been given fourteen solo exhibitions. He’s also had a prominent place in twenty-four other exhibitions, including several in which his name appears first (such as “Monet and Japan”). Furthermore, many of these exhibitions traveled to two or more cities, so his geographical exposure has been extensive.
Between the two world wars, Monet fell out of favor. His shaggy and often vaporous structures lost out to Cézanne’s stacked and bounded planes that underpinned the geometry and pictorial order of much painting of those years. Monet was brought back to prominence in the mid-1950s when artists, critics, and museum curators championed his twentieth-century canvases of water gardens. Their lyrical transformations of nature have a gyroscopic energy that suited the postwar mood: tangible proofs, it seemed, of spontaneity instead of prior, calculated schemata.2 This vanguard taste soon merged with the longstanding appreciation of the paintings of scenes of leisure by earlier Impressionists. By the 1960s Monet was Mr. Impressionism, and two decades later, his garden estate at Giverny became one of the prime tourist spots in France even though it has none of his paintings. The ties that link middle-class tourism, leisure, and flowers to Monet have made him more accessible than the recondite Cézanne, whom he’s long outdistanced in the exhibition world.
Of the four recent exhibitions, “Monet in Normandy” had the fewest surprises. In a typical maneuver these days by writers and museums, its sixty-four paintings, all very familiar, formed a geographical selection of the artist’s oeuvre.3 Tokyo’s “Monet and His Posterity” had many more unfamiliar paintings. Of ninety-seven Monets, thirty were lent by Japanese museums and another sixteen by Japanese individuals and corporations. Few of these have been shown in recent years, so travelers familiar with European and American exhibitions would have been pleasantly surprised, and their conception of Japanese wealth confirmed. The show was devised by Serge Lemoine, director of the Musée d’Orsay, with the collaboration of Japanese colleagues. It inaugurated the new National Art Center in Tokyo (designed by Kisho Kurokawa), whose open spaces, flooded by overhead skylights, provide Tokyo at long last with an independent showplace for art.
The Musée d’Orsay sent seventeen of its famous Monets to Tokyo, and eleven came from other French museums, leaving no doubt that the exhibition was a diplomatic…
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