Come out into the sunlight — with Claude Monet

DAM shows works of French impressionist who changed art world through long career


A life-sized photo of a pleasant-looking man surrounded by flowers welcomes the visitor at the entrance to Denver Art Museum’s “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature,” the major exhibit of more than 100 paintings by the French impressionist that opened Oct. 21 and will remain through the holidays until Feb. 2.

Clearly a don’t-miss for art lovers, this is an exhibit with works painted in many locations (Monet loved to travel) and in a palette that is bright and light — even in a snowy scene in wintry Norway. It speaks to anyone who can see it.

Monet loved any and all flowers and eventually designed and planted his own extensive garden at Giverny in northern France, the locale for many of those lovely paintings of water lilies we associate with him.

But this exhibit, organized with the new Museum Barberini, in Potsdam, Germany, also includes glimpses of the countryside, as well as towns, across Europe, such as “The Strada Romana at Bordighera,” 1884.

“Claude Monet: the Truth of Nature” follows a long, successful and prolific career, from Monet’s first painting to be exhibited, at 18 — “View from Rouelles,” 1858 — to the darker “The House Seen Through the Roses,” 1926. Most are sunny, but he also loved fog, and the collection of works depicting London convey that love, especially well.

Angelica Daneo, chief curator and curator of European Art before 1900, worked with DAM director Christoph Heinrich and the Barberini’s director, Ortrud Westheider, to assemble the works exhibited on the second floor of the Denver Art Museum.

Claude Monet was drawn to art before he reached his teen years and at 16, was mentored by Eugene Boudin and exhibited professionally while he studied. It was a time of change and resistance to it in the European art scene.

Paintings exhibited at the Denver Art Museum come from museums across the world, starting with the early “A View From Rouelles,” loaned by Maruma Art Park in Japan, which urged that a work by his mentor, Boudin, also be shown. Loans from many sources include “Haystacks, Snow Effect” from the Shelburn Museum; “House Seen Through the Roses,” from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (“House of the Customs Officer” 1882) and “Path in the Wheat Fields,” 1882, from the Denver Arts Museum’s treasured half-dozen Monet paintings, bequeathed by Frederic C. Hamilton. This will be the only showing in the United States.

As the exhibit’s title suggests, Monet, throughout his life, was tuned into the many moods and versions of nature and constantly sought out new experiences — in the garden, at the seaside, on country roads and in small towns and larger cities. How does the sunlight frame that old homestead today? Or that grove of trees or expanse of lilies? How does light filter through leaves — or reflect off surf at the sea’s edge?

Think, as you stroll slowly through the galleries, about the skill the painter exhibited in his choices of color and texture, the blending of brushstrokes, rendering of light and shadow … One can almost summon up sounds and scents with a focus on a given scene.

The installation of the Claude Monet paintings is greatly enhanced, I think, by the choice of deep, intense colors for the gallery walls: burgundy, deep blue, intense green … The background color makes even a small, subtle painting pop! The viewer should understand how daring his approach to painting was in 19th-century Europe.

“Throughout his career, Monet was indefatigable in his exploration of the different moods of nature, seeking to capture the spirit of a certain place and translating its truth onto the canvas,” Daneo commented.

The exhibit shows Monet’s eventual focus on certain subjects, such as haystacks, water lilies, bridges — as well as the eventual lack of humans in the scenes.

Through intense planning and precise choice of planting materials, Monet, an expert gardener, created the surroundings he wanted at Giverny and translated them to canvas in his later years, working with as many as seven gardeners at one point.

The exhibit fills three large galleries — about 20,000 square feet — and invites leisurely strolling and turns for repeat visits to some works where a connection seems apparent. A visitor should allow time to stop, sit, stare and return to that garden again … which may be difficult, because tickets are selling out and there will be more people than would be ideal for a relaxed visit. Be sure to line up a ticket before you go — it’s sold out for the next few weeks!

In the spring, the exhibit will travel to the Museum Barberini. A large, colorful catalogue is available at the Denver Art Museum shop.


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