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Museum Explores Relationship Between Two Iconic Painting Series by Monet and Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997), Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of the Day) Set III, 1969. Oil and Magna on five canvas panels. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

BOSTON, MA.- Claude Monet (1840–1926) painted 30 views of Rouen Cathedral from 1892 to 1895, captured at different times of the day and from various vantage points. Some 75 years later, Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) approached the same subject with a fresh eye, one that reflected the bold and graphic sensibilities of another innovative style—pop art. These two visions confront each other in Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals, which opens to the public on Sunday, July 3, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition features 10 canvases—five of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral images from 1893–94 and Lichtenstein’s five-panel interpretation of the subject from 1969—in an exploration of the relationship between these two iconic series.

The exhibition is on view July 3 through September 25 in the Lee Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and from October 2, 2011, through January 2, 2012, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It is a collaboration among the MFA, The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection in Los Angeles, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals highlights select works from one of Monet’s most famous series of paintings—focusing on the Gothic façade of Rouen Cathedral—a group of ethereal images that stands as a hallmark of the Impressionists’ revolutionary vision. These include the MFA’s Rouen Cathedral Façade and Tour d'Albane, Morning Effect, and Rouen Cathedral, Façade, both created in 1894, and three of the artist’s works from 1893 lent by the Orsay—Rouen Cathedral: The Portal and Tour Saint Romain, Morning Effect, Harmony in White; Rouen Cathedral: The Portal and Tour Saint-Romain, Full Sun, Harmony in Blue and Gold; and Rouen Cathedral: The Portal, Morning Sun, Harmony in Blue—will be displayed opposite Lichtenstein’s Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of the Day) Set III (1969, The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles).

“It has been a dream of mine for years—since the Broad Collection Lichtensteins were shown in Boston in 2002—to bring these paintings together with the great Monets that inspired them, and now, thanks to the Broad Collection, the Musée d’Orsay, and our own past donors, we are able to do just that,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “In this exhibition, we will show our visitors works by two great modern masters—Monet, the ocular genius of serial vision, and Lichtenstein, with his whole new way of seeing the world through mass-media repetition.”

In the 1860s, drawing upon his background in Realism, Monet began to develop a distinct style that offered a new interpretation of nature and contemporary subjects. A decade later, the French artist became a leader of this artistic movement, known as Impressionism. By the 1890s, Monet began to develop various series paintings that focused on specific sites affected by everchanging conditions of light, weather, and atmosphere. In his renowned canvases depicting the façade of Rouen Cathedral, Monet painstakingly built up with each stroke the effects of sunlight and shadows playing on the stone tracery of the Gothic church in northwestern France. Included among his other series paintings are iconic images of the water lily pond and Japanese bridge at the artist’s home in Giverny, as well as The Grainstacks, the Poplars on the Epte, Mornings on the Seine, Views of the Thames, and reflections of Venice. (Visitors to the MFA’s second-floor Impressionist gallery will find two pairs of these series paintings—grainstacks and water lilies—on view.)

“For both Monet and Lichtenstein, the subject is almost less important than the act of seeing,” said George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, who co-organized the exhibition with Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA. “It’s the nature of each artist’s obsession that this installation, this confrontation,investigates.”

Lichtenstein—born in 1923, three years before Monet’s death—was inspired to paint his own Cathedral series in his characteristic pop art style as a response to the exhibition “Serial Imagery” at the Pasadena Art Museum, where a group of Monet Cathedrals was studied. He created five sets of Cathedrals, four of which are made up of three canvases each. The fifth set, owned by The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, is the only one that consists of five panels. Lichtenstein transformed Monet's brushwork and complex transcription of light through the modern means of mass-market printing and reproduction using his signature Benday dots, a pattern silkscreened over a ground color. His earlier paintings made innovative use of commonplace imagery, such as comic strips and advertisements, to create tense, dramatic situations that are intended as ironic commentaries on modern life. In his later work, Lichtenstein also paraphrased masterpieces by artists such as Monet and Pablo Picasso, as well as art history movements, including, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Impressionism.

“Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals is a perfect example of the fluid exchange and conversation of ideas across art history that will also be highlighted in the new contemporary galleries of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art opening this September,” said Edward Saywell, Chair, Linde Family Wing, Head of the Department of Contemporary Art & MFA Programs. “It is incredibly fitting that the exhibition, which brings together two great masters—one of the 19th century and one of the 20th century—will coincide with the opening of our new contemporary galleries, illustrating beautifully how the MFA can bridge past and present by placing contemporary art into a historical and global context.”

Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals draws from the MFA’s renowned collection of some 35 paintings by Monet, one of the largest holdings of paintings by the artist outside of France, in the American city that first welcomed his work in the 1880s and 1890s with purchases and exhibitions. The first Monets to enter the Museum’s collection were given in 1906 by MFA patron Denman Waldo Ross (who had acquired them by the 1890s). The Museum’s painting Rouen Cathedral Façade and Tour d'Albane, Morning Effect, which was acquired by the MFA in 1924, is the first Rouen Cathedral painting to enter an American art museum collection. The exhibition also represents another collaboration between the MFA and the Musée d’Orsay, co organizers of Degas and the Nude—the first museum exhibition devoted entirely to Degas’s nudes. It will be on view at the MFA from October 9, 2011–February 5, 2012, and at the Musée d’Orsay from March 12–July 1, 2012. Presentation of the exhibition in Boston is made possible by Bank of America.

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