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Monet’s works in opposition

How Impressionism became expressionism: a new exhibition traces the influence of Claude Monet on the New York School

The Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris places 10 of Monet’s works in opposition with 20 by American titans.

Artpierre-monet_nympheas-bleus-800x0.jpg                             Claude Monet, Nymphéas bleus (1916-19) Musée d’Orsay, copyright in 
                                  photographs Musée d’Orsay, RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt.

Abstract expressionism, the movement that cemented the status of New York as the new center of the art world after the Second World War, comes home - to Paris. The fault of the essential American art movement to Europe is the subject of a new exhibition in the Musée de l’Orangerie of the city.

“The Water Lilies: American Abstract Painting and the Last Monet,” opened on April 13, places 10 of the French artist’s beloved paintings next to each other with 20 major works by American artists including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. The show opens with a large-scale work by Ellsworth Kelly, who spoke mainly about the influence of Monet.

Grass artpierre-download (7).jpeg                            Ellsworth Kelly, Tableau Vert (1952), The Art Institute of Chicago, gift from the artist, 2009 Photo                               courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago Artwork, copyright Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

Curator Cécile Debray, chief curator and director of the Musée de l’Orangerie, notes that many American art critics saw Monet as a bridge between Impressionism and New York School. After Clement Greenberg saw Monet’s water lilies during a visit to Paris in 1954, he believed that both Newman and Clyfford Still were following in the footsteps of the older French artist.

Artpierre-claude-monet-saule-pleureur-1920-1922-c-musee-d-orsay-dist-rmn-grand-palais-michele-bellot-800x0.jpg                           Claude Monet, Le Saule pleureur (1920-22) Musée d’Orsay, gift Philippe Meyer, 2000, copyright                                                 photo RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Michèle Bellot.

Indeed, in the years after World War II, Monet’s garden in Giverny and his paintings in Paris became a place of pilgrimage for young American artists who studied in France. One of them was Kelly, who saw dozens of unsold works by the artist during a visit to Giverny in 1952. He was so impressed by their scale and clenched brushwork that he made a tribute: Tableau Vert (1952), now owned from the Art Institute of Chicago, which starts the show in Paris.

Although it took time for Monet to get a grip in the US, director Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art gave his blessings to get the first water lily paintings of the museum in 1955 - not coincidentally, around the same time that abstract expressionism on the highlight was of his influence in New York. There was a rush of demand. Midwestern museums, including the Nelson-Atkins in Cleveland and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, hastened to buy Monet’s late annual work.

The exhibition in Paris is full of large-scale works - many of which are rarely seen together and occasionally covered - by heavyweights such as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Philip Guston and Sam Francis. Major loans came from Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, among other institutions.

The show is supported by the American friends of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Terra Art Foundation.

Artpierre-56-download (7).jpeg
                               Philip Guston, Dial (1956). Whitney Museum of American Art, copyright the Estate or Philip                                                                 Guston, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

“Waterlilies: American Abstract Painting and the Last Monet,” runs from 13 April to 20 August at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.


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"Colors have their own beauty that must be preserved, as one strives to maintain the sound quality in music" Henri Matisse"No one is an artist unless he has his Painting in his head before he starts painting it, and he is certain of his method and composition".Claude Monet.