Throughout his lengthy artistic life, Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted a lot of different subject matter. But he had a particular fondness for water. And then for one certain body of water.
"I have painted the Seine throughout my entire life, at every hour, at every season," he once said. "I have never tired of it. For me, the Seine is always new."
Things get rollin' on the river when the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents a unique exhibit of 52 works by the leading light of French Impressionism in "Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River."
The exhibit was put together by the MFAH and the Philbrook Museum of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Works were borrowed from a variety of museum, corporate, and private collections.
The paintings - which span decades - detail Monet's fascination with the waterway, and include many from his groundbreaking 1896-97 "Mornings on the Seine" series, which were exhibited to great acclaim.
"Monet was born on the Seine, grew up where the Seine meets the English Channel. It became 'his' river," says co-curator Helga Aurisch of the MFAH. "I think it held a particular fascination for him because he was so interested in the changes in nature, and nothing changes more quickly than the sky or the water."
Interestingly, she adds, Money never looked at the upper part of the Seine - only the portion between Paris and the English channel!
An indeed, the stunning works show an amalgamation of sky, water, tree, plant, and people life along the Seine. Many of these paintings were done from the same spot and - depending on the weather or the time of day - could take on a whole different look.
While painting the Seine, Monet often worked on his "studio boat" - a rowboat with an added cabin. The vessel aided the artist greatly in allowing him to paint from new angles, and closer to the water.
As to his practice of working on multiple paintings at the same time - at one point a whopping 14 - Aurisch adds "he wanted to transcribe the changes in light on the same motif seamlessly from pre-dawn murkiness to morning sunlight."
That Monet spent his adult life mostly in small towns and villages along the Seine like Argenteuil--even when he could afford to live in a bigger city and closer to the art world--first started out of necessity.
"Monet chose to live outside of Paris to begin with simply because it was cheaper. And Argenteuil--where he was from 1871-78--was only 15 minutes away from Paris by train. He discovered the beauties of the river while there," Aurisch notes.
"Interestingly, he first paints the green banks, strands of trees near the river, etc. before painting closer in the bridges, the boat basins, and the regattas," she adds. In all, the works in this exhibit span from the 1860s to 1901.
The exhibit catalogue also discusses the feeling of French "ownership" of the heyday of Impressionism and its major exhibits (approximately 1874-1886), as the movement took place in France. And the vast majority of its practitioners - save Mary Cassatt - were all French.
"I hope this exhibition will show his astonishing development as an artist," Aurisch sums up. "From the marine painter we see in the 1860s, to one who pushes painting to its limits in his lyrical, abstract, and magically beautiful compositions."
Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River runs from October 26-February 1 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. 713-639-7300 or mfah.org
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