OU blog

Personal Blogs

New photo


Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Friday, 1 Jun 2018, 16:34

MONET & ARCHITECTURE: Continued from here (click to open prequel in new window)

This exhibition’s curation is a return to the tradition of the 'monographic' (as NG calls it) exhibition. Obviously, the work of a senior academic art historian it is of the ‘old school’ while dressing itself up in a trendy and novel theme: architecture. However, architecture is widely understood to include village church spires, older picturesque built phenomena in ruins or restored or the new build villas of the bourgeoisie who formed the clientele of Monet’s Art. Within this remit a lot gets included and one can’t help but see how the thematic structure of rooms – picturesque village & town, urban modernity and finally monumentalism is a cover for largely preserving a chronological presentation of remarkable stylistic developments.

This isn’t true entirely though because the themes also expose the contradictions that make up the whole phenomenon of Monet’s art. Whilst producing some instances Thomson calls ‘modern’ that are self-consciously aware of industrial and commercial capitalism as a change-agent not only of landscape but the media we see landscape through – the media of space, time, light and variant density of volumes. It is these latter that allow London's polluted fog to become a subject as much as the motif - say Waterloo Bridge - we see (sometimes dimly) through it. But for me Monet’s take on the produced landscapes of capitalism is weak. The Coal-Heavers (1875) is a remarkable picture in which, as Thomson says, everything is man-made. I was dying, as they say, to see it but it disappointed. The depiction of working-class people turns them into ciphers and their impact on the environment is likewise eradicated. The planks over which they carry heavy bags of coal do not even receive their weight and, likewise, the Seine beneath them is barely touched by the coal droppings which must have discoloured it. One effect is of a Monet water piece (with all the shimmering play of light on water) that sort of blithely ignores the labour going on round it. It strikes me, as Ruskin would have said, as ‘untrue’.

So, this was a wonderful experience – not least because as Monet ages we see the increasing ways in which purely visual effects – things we notice as a surprise by virtue of heightened perception – become less cognitive and more emotional (perhaps despite Monet who still though he painted only what he saw) such as the Rouen West Front of the Cathedral series or late Venice or London paintings. And this is not all stylistic. The concentration of Monet increasingly on effet rather than motif or a balance of the two, allows him to remove all figures from his late pictures – those tourists he so hated and lambasted – although he was one such.

But these are beautiful pictures. They aren’t though, to my mind, great pictures – although the chance to see this collection made something wondrous accessible – a man’s journey through the psychology of vision. I say not ‘great’ though because that psychology was far from a social psychology. It eradicates the social eventually – although only via some wonderful experiments in urban art – which we see here in his mid-career Paris pictures.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post