Friday, November 29, 2019

EXHIBIT: Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature

The paintings of nineteenth century French Impressionist painter Claude Monet are truly sublime. And if that's the case, then a visit to "Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature" exhibit currently showing at the Denver Art Museum is a necessary pilgrimage for art lovers, or even the curious art novice. It's like going to church, and the devout should not miss it.

I've always known Monet as one of the iconic Impressionist painters, but I don't really think I understood the scope and significance of his career, his vision, his innovation, and his influence until I visited the Denver Art Museum for what is a vast, impressive, and nearly overwhelming exhibition of some of the most incredible paintings in history. The show covers 12 separate galleries featuring roughly 120 paintings which focus on numerous facets of his style and development over a career. And, the really cool thing is the inclusion of 22 pieces from private collections. This exhibit may be the only opportunity to ever see some of these works, such as this fascinating early picture of the harbor in Monet's hometown: "The Port of Le Havre, Night Effect." I am struck by the style, which seems almost abstract at times, and I'm intrigued by the movement he creates with his brush strokes.

The scope of his career simply wows me, as I learned how he sold his first painting at eighteen, after a brief experimentation as a caricaturist. And he painted continuously, almost obsessively, for a career spanning nearly seventy years. He traveled extensively for the purpose of painting the local landscapes and truly pursuing the ability to capture nature -- in fact, his frustration was that light and perspective is ever-changing, and he could never be sure he'd captured the moment. Stunning dedication to craft and vision -- that's Monet. He was a student of painting, as much as he was its master, and his craft and study of color and shifting light took a lifetime to develop. On my visit to the show, I spent nearly three and a half hours exploring the subtle and deeply complex way he layers colors into a scene, such as this image from his time on the Italian coast: "Villas at Bordighera"

We all know the water lilies, of course. And the hay stacks. But I was fascinated with his study of water, both the Seine and the ocean in numerous series and studies he completed over his lifetime. One gallery focuses on the time he spent in one home in the village of Vetheuil, a suburb outside of Paris. It was a refuge for him, and it was a place where he truly began to explore nature, getting away from any urban influence. I was regularly brought in to Monet's focus on reflection and image, especially with the way it plays on water and even snow. The richness of this focus is exquisitely captured in his study: "Vetheuil in Summer"

I could have spent a whole day with Monet and this exhibit, which may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience Monet this way. While I've seen numerous Monet paintings in galleries and museums around the world, I cannot fathom another time or place to spend an afternoon with so many masterpieces. It is a beautifully curated show, which honors the career and legacy of one of history's most important artists. Thus, if you're near Denver, or you can travel here sometime in the next couple months, don't miss the chance. This show is only making one stop in North America, and that stop is the Mile High City.

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