Monet & Architecture

Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery is the first purely Monet exhibition to be staged in London for more than twenty years. Featuring more than seventy five paintings, spanning over his career of fifty years, it showcases the roles of diverse buildings in Monet’s work, and challenges the assumption that Monet was a man who only focused on gardens and seascapes. The art world might be obsessed with his water lilies (the exhibition opens with The Water Lily Pond, 1899), but that doesn’t mean that Claude Monet was.

The exhibition is in three sections – The Village and the Picturesque, The City and the Modern and The Monument and the Mysterious – each exploring how Monet captured a rapidly changing society through his portrayal of buildings.

View of Amsterdam (1874) shows the importance of the river on the city, whilst he Coal-heavers (1875) indicates a busy industry. We’re treated to views of contemporary leisure in The Promenade a Argenteuil (1872) and On the Boardwalk at Trouville (1870). And we can compare the scene in Charing Cross, Bridge, the Thames (1899-1903) with that immediately outside our door.

Critics described his London paintings as having the quality of music, something that can be seen in the movement of light playing on the river and in the atmosphere. Even the smog and fog is given a lyrical quality in the way that illumination shifts. In Venice it was the sunshine that inflected the dialogue between architectural structure and the water. Textures and atmosphere mingled in an alchemy of brushwork and colour.
Street scenes of Paris and the Gare Saint-Lazare are more detailed and specific in tone, a more precise depiction of structures and street life being the focus, later to be overtaken by light and water in a shifting mysticism.
Buildings added shape that stood out in the irregularity of nature. They offered colour and structure. They also allowed Monet to depict the changing world in which he lived, where industry, transport and commerce were becoming a more important and part of life.
Buildings don’t exist in isolation. Monet knew that. As the artist put it in 1895: ‘Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat … I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of the light in which they exist.’

This exhibition captures the buildings and the light. It is a thing of beauty.

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