Saturday, 6 May 2017

Art Review: Monet: The Early Years, Legion of Honor, San Francisco

A couple of weeks ago the Secret Victorianist was in San Francisco, where I took the opportunity to see the first major US exhibition dedicated to Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) early years as an artist.

The Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide (1865)
Covering the period 1858 to 1872, the exhibition includes Monet’s early exhibits at the Salon, such as The Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide (exhibited in 1865), works rejected by the Salon, including innovative snowscape The Magpie (1868-9), and paintings that show his debt to other artists, like Luncheon on the Grass (1863), an homage to Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting of the same name.

The Magpie (1868-9)
What emerges is a picture of Monet as a rule-breaker — something hard for us to imagine given his prominent place in the art history canon today. The term Impressionism wasn’t coined until the 1870s, taking its name from Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1872), and the exhibition does a good job of outlining why many of Monet’s experiments were rejected by the Parisian art world.

Luncheon on the Grass (1863)
But the exhibition also gives us a glimpse of Monet as a young man, struggling to survive with a young family. His 1878 The Red Kerchief, for instance, is a portrait of his first wife, Camille Doncieux, who died only a year later, Jean Monet Sleeping (1868) shows the artist’s oldest child at only a year old and Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden (1866) captures a serene day in Monet’s often difficult relationship with his father.

The Red Kerchief (1878)
There are also paintings that conjure up different locations, which may be surprising to those who are most familiar with Monet’s Water Lilies series, painted at Giverny (where he first rented a house in May 1883). In 1871 he travelled to the Netherlands, painting landscapes and studies of the Dutch buildings, such as Houses on the Zaan River at Zaandam. This exhibition features many works from this trip as well as his journey to London, where he captured the bleak British weather in paintings such as Hyde Park (1871), using the same techniques we often associate with his skill in depicting brilliant sunlight.

Houses on the Zaan River at Zaandam (1871)
Monet: The Late Years is slated for 2019 and will no doubt contain even more of the artist’s most famous and loved paintings. But this exhibition, on display in San Francisco until May 29, brings you into the life and mind of a talented young artist, with the vision to create and encapsulate a movement.

Hyde Park (1871)
Do you know of any NYC exhibitions you think the Secret Victorianist would like? Let me know — here, on Google+, on Facebook, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden (1866)