Monet & Japan

9 March-11 June 2001

“Monet & Japan shows extraordinary parallels as well as more subtle influences: it includes a splendid array of the artist’s works including some of the best known of them; these are accompanied by woodblock prints, screens and scrolls that represent some of the central traditions of Japanese art. The exhibition shows how these traditions have interacted in Monet’s art.”

Dr Brian Kennedy
Director, National Gallery of Australia
(The Art Newspaper, London, February 2001)

The exhibition, Monet & Japan brings together 39 of Claude Monet’s greatest paintings. They carry the same freshness and celebration of light which marked them as they left the artist’s studio more than a century ago. Monet & Japan shows them in the context of Japanese art – an art which moulded and changed his view of painting over his long career of more than 60 years.

Claude Monet is the most famous and influential artist of the French Impressionist movement. His paintings of haystacks, bridges, poplars and waterlilies are instantly recognisable and much loved by gallery-goers all over the world. They attract rave reviews from critics and the inclusion of even a few Monets in any exhibition guarantees success.

The exhibition derives from an original idea by the art historian and internationally distinguished Monet scholar, Professor Virginia Spate of Sydney University, who discussed it with the late Michael Lloyd, Assistant Director Collections at the National Gallery. They wished to create an exhibition around the thesis of the relationship between Monet’s paintings and the vast influences on his work of Japanese prints, paintings, screens and gardens.

To fulfil this vision the world’s major museums – the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in London, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and more than a dozen others from around the world, have lent their most precious works, essential to their permanent display, to enable this ground-breaking concept to come to fruition.

At the turn of the last century, Japan had emerged from almost 200 years of self-imposed exile. Its arts and crafts flooded Europe and became instantly chic and collectable – it also influenced a group of French artists who were largely seeking a new form of expression. This group of revolutionary artists, of which Monet was a leader, were called the Impressionists – and the exhibition Monet & Japan explores his lifetime’s work as a brilliantly creative artist.

Monet never travelled to Japan yet his excitement and inspiration in all things Japanese was as real and as palpable as music and rock bands are for young people today.

In 1883 he moved to Giverny outside Paris where he spent the rest of his life and where he built the famous garden that today is a shrine to his work and life. The garden features a waterlily pool, ringed by weeping willows and crossed by the distinctive arc of the Japanese ‘dream bridge’.

It is perhaps for his waterlilies that he is best known – and 5 of his great waterlily paintings will be on show at the National Gallery. The earliest examples were small easel paintings, but gradually his format grew to huge works often several metres long. The finale to this exhibition is Monet’s six-metre Waterlilies from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It celebrates the waterlilies with the reflection of trees and sky on the surface of his pool in Giverny.

The exhibition is loosely divided into a set of themes to tell the story of a genius’ lifetime – the Early Works including Garden at Sainte-Adresse from the Metropolitan in New York – painterly works from the 1880s of sea, cliffs and rocks. Decoration and Seriality 1890s – serial views of haystacks, bridges, etc, shown at different times of the day and in different seasons – Giverny and the water garden and finally Waterlilies for which he is most known.

Dr Brian Kennedy, Director, National Gallery of Australia says, “The essence of the original vision was to create an exhibition that juxtaposed great and well-loved canvasses of Claude Monet with some crucial Japanese images that had inspired a vast period of his creative life.”

Monet & Japan was curated at the National Gallery of Australia in association with the Art Gallery of Western Australia. A distinguished list of scholars has contributed to bringing the project to fruition – the late Michael Lloyd, Assistant Director Collections and Dr Ted Gott, now of the Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Professor Virginia Spate of the University of Sydney and Dr David Bromfield, Freelance Scholar. The exhibition has been co-ordinated by project manager, Lyn Conybeare.

The principal presenting sponsor of the exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra is Sony Australia Limited, considered the world’s leading manufacturer of consumer electronics – a company know for innovation, creativity and imagination. The precious works of art from museums and private collections around the world have been carried by Qantas. The exhibition is also supported by Channel 7 and Art Indemnity Australia.

For further information please contact Public Affairs, telephone (02) 6240 6431, fax (02) 6240 6561.