Bologna is back in business with Monet

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Bologna is back in business with Monet
Installation view.

BOLOGNA.- Exhibition activity got underway again at Palazzo Albergati in Bologna on 29 August 2020, which marked the start of the eagerly awaited exhibition ‘Monet and the Impressionists. Masterpieces from the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris’: a collection of fifty-seven masterpieces bearing the signatures of Monet and the biggest names in French Impressionism – such as Manet, Renoir, Degas, Corot, Sisley, Caillebotte, Morisot, Boudin, Pissarro and Signac – all from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, renowned throughout the world as the “home of the great Impressionists”.

This is a real first, given that this is the only time since its foundation in 1934 that the Parisian museum has loaned out a corpus of unique pictures, many of which have never been exhibited anywhere else in the world.

Going against the current international trend, as well as being a truly major event in exhibition terms this show also represents a huge challenge during a period still dominated by great uncertainty due to the Covid-19 health crisis.

With the intention of catering to the public interest and relaunching Bologna’s cultural offer, five months later the Musée Marmottan Monet and Arthemisia are once again presenting the key exhibition that is being held from 29 August 2020 to 14 February 2021: an unmissable opportunity to explore the development of the world’s best loved movement in painting.

The Comune di Bologna, in partnership with Bologna Welcome, is playing an active part in promoting the exhibition, partly through its Card Culture tool.

Alongside key masterpieces of French Impressionism such as Portrait of Madame Ducros (1858) by Degas, Portrait of Julie Manet (1894) by Renoir and Water Lilies (c. 1916–19) by Monet, the exhibition also showcases a number of works that have never been seen by the public at large because they have never left the Musée Marmottan Monet. This is the case of the Portrait of Berthe Morisot Reclining (1873) by Édouard Manet, Pont de l'Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) by Claude Monet and Seated Young Girl in a White Hat (1884) by Pierre Auguste Renoir.

The ‘Monet and the Impressionists. Masterpieces from the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris’ exhibition also seeks to pay tribute to all those collectors and benefactors – including the many descendants and friends of the artists in display – who, from 1932 onwards, have helped to expand the prestigious collection at the Parisian museum, making it one of the richest and most important in terms of preserving the memory of the Impressionist movement.

SECTION ONE – Claude Monet: the origin of the Musée Marmottan Monet collections

Paul Marmottan kept his collections in his home in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. It was opened to the public in 1934 and was named the Musée Marmottan Monet in the 1990s.

The addition of the great master’s name reflects the acquisitions made by the museum, which now houses the biggest Monet collection in the world.

This exceptional collection was created in 1940 thanks in part to the donation from Victorine Donop de Monchy, whose portrait painted by Renoir (Portrait of Victorine de Bellio, 1892) features in the exhibition.

The show opens with two of the Monet masterpieces that Victorine donated to the museum: Pont de l'Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) and Train in the Snow or The Locomotive (1875).

Subsequently, in 1966, Michel Monet, Claude’s son and last descendent, appointed the Musée Marmottan as the artist’s universal legatee, thereby making it the custodian of the world’s largest collection of artworks by Monet.

Michel donated around 100 canvases by his father, whose finest pieces make up the core of the exhibition, together with a bust of Monet by Paul Paulin, which is the only sculpture on display.

SECTION TWO – Berthe Morisot at the Musée Marmottan Monet
Back in the 1990s, the Musée Marmottan Monet hosted the first collection in the world of works by Berthe Morisot.

The works were offered to the museum by the descendants of the daughter of Berthe and Ėugene Manet (brother of Ėdouard), Julie Manet. This section features her portrait, painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1894 (Portrait of Julie Manet) when she was sixteen years old.

In addition to Berthe Morisot’s masterpieces, the bequest from Annie Rouart (Julie’s daughter-in-law) includes artworks by great artists and family friends such as Camille Corot, Édouard Manet and the other Impressionist colleagues whose works in the exhibition testify to the earliest stages of the movement.

In this section, Manet’s Jupiter and Antiope (1856) (inspired by Titian’s eponymous painting) evokes Berthe Morisot’s encounter with Claude Monet at the Louvre in 1868, when the two of them were copying masterpieces at the museum.

Next to this is the Portrait of Berthe Morisot Reclining (1876), illustrating her activity as a model. Indeed, she posed for Manet until 1874, the year he married Eugène.

SECTION THREE – Painting en plein air
How did the Impressionists contribute to the history of art? How did they differ from their predecessors? What innovations did they hand down to the next generations?
Being an Impressionist primarily means painting from life, getting out of the studio and working outdoors, en plein air. This approach leads to a number of different results. Impressionists paint what they see. By doing so, they deliberately break away from the tradition of religious and mythological painting and from its edifying and idealized scenes. Painting from life also means having to bring equipment with you: an easel, palette, tubes of paint and a canvas. Artists therefore prefer small formats that are easy to transport. They also paint more quickly, because they only have limited time, meaning that the work is executed very rapidly. Last but not least, Impressionists work in the light of day and this is reflected in the colours of their palette. They abandon the dark and gloomy shades of their predecessors in favour of light colours.

In this section, works such as Landscape near Cagnes-sur-Mer (1905) by Renoir, Indian Summer, near Moret-sur-Loing (1891) by Sisley and Outer Boulevards, Snow (1879) by Pisarro illustrate the Impressionists’ contribution to the history of art and the innovations they handed down to the next generations.

SECTION FOUR – Figure painting
In order to ridicule the free and rapid style of the paintings by Monet and his friends, the critic Louis Leroy coined the term “Impressionist” in 1874, drawing inspiration from Monet’s famous painting Impression, Sunrise (Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet).

Dedicating their time to studying atmospheric effects on subjects and the landscape, the Impressionists were regularly criticized by those who accused them of not knowing how to draw. However, that was not the case, and this is clearly apparent when we look at their figure paintings such as Portrait of Henri Rouart (1871) and Portrait of Madame Ducros (1858), both by Degas.

Renoir, Morisot and Degas considered drawing to be the very essence of their artistic practice. The line is what brings the subject to life in all its complexity.

Being an Impressionist also meant portraying society as it is, painting a portrait of “modern life”, as Baudelaire called it.

SECTION FIVE – Monet: from Argenteuil to Giverny
Monet was born in 1840 and died in 1926. He spent his entire life immersed in nature, which provided him with a never-ending source of inspiration. During the early years of his career, he set up his easel in Argenteuil near Paris and in Normandy, where he grew up, as well as going on numerous trips around Europe and to the Netherlands. When he eventually settled in Giverny, his garden became the only subject of his paintings.

Should we therefore see Monet as an artist who, rather like a cartographer, describes France and Europe, urban and rural life? No. First and foremost, he seeks to describe light and space: the brilliant light of a spring day in Argenteuil (The Walk Argenteuil, 1875), the rainy atmosphere of a stormy sea in Fécamp (The Sea at Fécamp, 1881) or the reflections of the foliage on the pond in Giverny (The Water Lily Pond, 1917–19 and 1918–19). While an approach such is this is undeniably consistent, it still leaves room for development.

When he was a young Impressionist, Monet devoted himself to easel painting, working on panoramic landscapes such as the views of Port-Villez (The Seine at Port-Villez, Evening Effect, 1894). However, he tackled the subject from a different angle in the garden in Giverny. Portraying the fragility of a flower on the immensity of a canvas enables him to depict a space that seems endless, in which the infinitely small encounters the infinitely large, the micro meets the macrocosm (Iris, c. 1924–25).

SECTION SIX – From Monet to Signac
Monet’s large paintings – first and foremost his final work The Roses from 1925–26 – were never exhibited by the artist during his lifetime.

Wisteria (1919–20) and The Japanese Footbridge (1918) were kept in his salon-atelier and in his studio, while he loved to surround himself by works by his friends in his bedroom.

And he didn’t limit himself to pieces by his colleagues. He also purchased some canvases by the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac from the art dealer Bernheim-Jeune, while others were given to him by Signac himself during a visit – almost a pilgrimage – to Giverny.

The two artists adopted a different approach, with one being more instinctive (Impressionist) and the other more methodical and scientific (Neo-Impressionist), and yet they both had a shared objective: to glorify light and colour.

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