“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers”
A delightful bench, which can be found in the contemplative garden of impressionist artist Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) at Giverny in France is a feature of a landmark innovative exhibition Monet’s Garden being held from May to October 2012 at The New York Botanical Garden, one of New York City’s finest and most prominent cultural institutions. It will provide a perfect place to pause and reflect, as visitors navigate their way around the show, which is a tribute to the master artist, whose life was passionately devoted to the cultivation of beauty and to producing pleasant painterly impressions of life. What Monet sought was a delicate, hazy, fleeting thing – a nuance, seeking it in water and sky, mists and flowers. With fresh, quick brushstrokes he caught the mobility of the moment in a continual vibration of colour and vitality, which became one of the great virtues of Impressionism.
Curator of the exhibition Dr Paul Hayes Tucker, of the University of Massachusetts Boston, is one of America’s foremost authorities on Monet and Impressionism. In collaboration with colleagues from the Museé Marmottan Monet at Paris, LuEsther T, Mertz Library, The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, The Yale University Art Gallery, The Poetry Society of America and The Metropolitan Museum of Art they are providing a panoply of experiences for the visitor. Over a six-month long period they will all contribute to the seasonally changing interpretation of the marvellous garden Monet created at Giverny in France, which continually inspired his works in art.
The New York Botanical Garden has been studying, exhibiting, conserving and teaching about plants for 120 years. It is ‘an unforgettable departure from the everyday’, an “ever-changing living museum, which is uniquely positioned among other museums and cultural venues in America to mount an exhibition such as Monet’s Garden,” said Gregory Long, Chief Executive Officer and The William C. Steere Sr. President of The New York Botanical Garden. “We are very excited to present what is sure to be a beautiful and inspiring exhibition. We hope visitors will learn about the profound connections between art and nature.”
The Monet’s Garden show will explore the legacy of the artist’s idyllic gardens by transforming the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a seasonally changing floral masterpiece of diverse plants, bold colours, and dramatic design. Opened in 1902 the Victorian style glass conservatory is one of New York city’s favourite destinations. Water lilies, with their enchanting flowers and magical floating leaves, are spellbinding aquatic perennials that light up all water features with their wonderful waxy blooms. Monet recorded some 250 scenes of water lilies in his pond at Giverny in every sort of light source and season. During the summer, in the Conservatory Courtyard’s Hardy Pool at The New York Botanical Garden, the collection of water lilies will offer visitors the perfect chance to see first hand the plants Monet collected for his water garden and painted in his famous Nymphéas series.
In the Rondina Gallery of the Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T, Mertz Library, two Claude Monet paintings on view will feature the iris garden at Giverny. One comes from The Yale University Art Gallery and the second from a private collection in Switzerland. Both leave us with no doubt about Monet’s devotion to botanical affairs. The two works are ideally paired, capturing the intensity of colours in the artist’s garden at Giverny. They have never been displayed together before. In addition Monet’s actual palette, with paints intact, will also be on show.
There will be chamber music concerts of works (Water Lily Concerts) by composers contemporary to Monet’s time and selected film screenings to attend, many fabulous family activities to enjoy, poignant poetry readings to listen to and rare and splendid photographic images to view. An iPhone application, produced jointly by The New York Botanical Garden,with The Metropolitan Museum of Art will provide an interactive opportunity for visitors, enhancing their considerable experiences while providing an intimate insight into the insightful impressions of master artist, Claude Monet.
Designed by Tony Award-winning set designer Scott Pask, a façade of Monet’s house will be re-created to offer visitors a glimpse of the artist’s view own of his garden as well as the flowers he grew and depicted in his paintings. Other set pieces will include a re-creation of his iconic Japanese footbridge draped with wisteria and the Grande Allée, draped with flowers.
Born at Paris, the son of a grocer Claude Monet grew up in Le Havre and was a painter who took into account colour, texture, variety, balance, composition, shading and perspective when painting on a canvas.
These same concerns motivated Monet the garden designer. The simple flowers he loved were poppies and sunflowers, Christmas roses and jonquils. He never tired of them, or of painting them, and they are still growing at Giverny today.
Photographs of Giverny at different seasons by Californian photographer Elizabeth Murray, who has dug in the earth of his garden practically helping out with the restoration project of the Giverny estate during the 80’s, will be on view in an exhibit called Seasons in Giverny. It will be held in The New York Botanical Garden’s Ross Gallery and Elizabeth’s photographs will also be highlighted throughout the Conservatory flower show.
In his garden Claude Monet was very much at peace with himself and the world. He was the leader of a very ‘cool’ group of painters who, unlike their sometime posh predecessors, were in the main spectacularly poor. They provided an all-new version of life, as it really was and not by following an old set of rules. They pulled away from the French Academy, whose focus had been for many decades on the ancient past. They produced a new style of painting set in an earthy reality of the present.
The first ‘Impressionist’ exhibition in 1874 was held in the former studio of the photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820 -1910)) at 35 boulevard des Capucines, Paris on April 15 under the title Anonyme des Artistes(peintres, sculpteurs, Gravcurs etc). It was reviewing critic Louis Leroy, who was working for the magazine Le Charivari, that first coined the phrase Impressionist. He was commenting on a work by Monet called ‘Impression oleil Levant’.
A flight of stairs led directly from the street to the rooms above, the walls of which were covered in fabulous red, a colour favoured by Nadar and one we also know British painter of light Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), who is often called the first ‘true’ Impressionist artist, favoured as a background for showing off art.
Impressionists painters made great statements about social change, they paused in the countryside, capturing the light of the sky in Normandy where the intense colour of red poppies flowering in fallow fields remind us of war and peace.
They recorded the haze leaching off lovely lavender fields in the heat of a Provencal summer, where this hardy and luxurious plant released its heady calming fragrance into the cool night air. They also floated on boats along the River Seine capturing impressions of both the water and life.
Dear Monet had a boat especially fitted out for his own use and he and his colleagues followed the river as it meandered in circuitous routes through the city of Paris. They enjoyed picnics on its banks, while recording all sorts of places from power stations to railway stations for posterity. When they reached the sea they scrambled over slippery moss covered rocks to capture the marvellous magic of the ocean and rocky formations along the rugged coastline.
The turbulence of the waves mirror imaged the up and down aspects of their life, and its times. No doubt the waves were as unpredictable as the swelling number of tourists who were clamouring to see the artists at work, giving them a lot of trouble while helping establish their all-new celebrity status.
New information and new inventions impacted on the scenes they were choosing to record. When going out into the field to paint Impressionist artists needed to take along a great deal of stuff.
First there was a wide brimmed hat, a fold up seat, a palette and painter’s smock. It was produced in a suitably dark colour so as not to detract the artist from the intensity of the colours in use. A parasol was required to shade your eyes from the midday sun and help the painter to see their palette of colours as they really were. Sunglasses as we know them, were not fully available or fashionable until the 30’s.
For those going out into nature the new fangled artistic travel kit with a fold up easel was a brilliant innovative design. An essential, it had a secret place in which to keep your paints now available in a brilliant new invention, tubes.
The Impressionists employed the characteristics that define contemporary art in every age; confidence in execution, structure, form and style. They thought well beyond the square, brilliantly capturing life in special places indoors as well as the great outdoors where nature ruled in all her spectacular glory.
They wanted society to be forward thinking providing subjects that were neither dark or light, en grisaille (shades of grey) or rich sensuous colour. Painters treading the pathway to truth trampled through fields of snow leaving deep impressions as they set out to capture the silent shadows of a winter’s day.
They recorded people at play, at the opera, the ballet, the horse races, at home, in their garden, in their bedrooms, on their bed, from under their bed, dressing, undressing, buck naked in their bath indoors and outdoors, and much more. New styles of artist brushes offered yet another opportunity to achieve very different results when applying paint to the canvas.
“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece,” said Claude Monet.
In the setting of The New York Botanical Garden, visitors to the exhibition Monet’s Garden , will witness first hand how nature inspired Claude Monet and how he developed his art through his passion for gardening.
The Impressionist promise was, that if you did decide to follow their lead then you would at least be able to trust you were seeing an optimistic view of a life well lived. Knowing the high standards New Yorkers always reach for, Monet’s Garden is sure to be a superb show, full of colour and light.
The French coined the phrase ‘vive la difference’ and made it a hallmark of their houses and gardens. The colours of Monet’s landscape and the elusive light of the Normandy countryside helped him maintain a physical presence of ‘la difference’.
Impressionist art was full of people, within natural settings and, without ‘artifice or grandeur’. We could say that in the history of art Monet’s first impressions would definitely turn out to be lasting impressions.
Photographed in the last year of his life, the artist had become a Grand Old Man, and the very incarnation of Impressionism. The image-maker had become the image.
Blessed with an iron constitution and vast reserves of energy, to the end of his life Monet traversed his garden at least three or four times a day, mentally improving it. As it gained fame and journalists, art critics and dealers arrived.
He would receive them in his own understated sartorial style. In the snapshot Monet manages to look informal in the only area of formal planting in the garden, the grey foliage of the pinks setting of the pink and red geraniums most effectively.
The pink stucco of the house has disappeared behind Virginia creeper and evening primrose is in the left foreground. His horticultural wizardry was the central motif of his artistic genius.
The life and soul of his own garden was inextricably bound up with that of Monet the gardener. The journey they took through life, was one they took together.
Claude Monet made sure the realistic style he and his colleagues championed would remain as its protagonists always intended, fresh and full of possibilities. Monet’s art has become popular over the last century because people from all walks of life, all creeds, all nationalities and cultures have been able to plug into the art movement whose message was, in reality, a true and spontaneous celebration of life.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012
What: Exhibition Monet’s Garden in The New York Botanical Garden is A Tribute to the Master, which Highlights His Passion for Gardening and Its Influence on His Art
Where: The New York Botanical Garden,, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx
Dates: May 19 to October 21, 2012 Open: Daily 10am to 6pm Website: www.nybg.org
Phone: Locally please call 718.817.8700 Internationally from London 00 + 1 718.817.8700, from Canada 00+1 718.817.8700 and from Australia 0011+1 718.817.8700
In New York you can reach The New York Botanical Garden by Metro-North Railroad or subway.
Sponsored by MetLife Foundation and the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust
Generous support from the Karen Katen Foundation
Made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services
Supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities
Made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature
Additional support provided by the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, The Kurt Berliner Foundation, The E.H.A. Foundation, Inc., The Grand Marnier Foundation, Great Circle Foundation Inc., and Vital Projects Fund, Inc.
The New York Botanical Garden, is located on property owned in full by the City of New York, and its operation is made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The New York City Council and The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provide a portion of the Garden’s general operating funds. The Bronx Borough President and Bronx elected representatives in the City Council and State Legislature provide leadership funding.
With Thanks: The Public Relations Team -The New York Botanical Garden and Elizabeth Murray. Monterey, CA
Images: Courtesy The New York Botanical Garden, Elizabeth Murray and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York