In 1883, Monet moved to the village of Giverny, downstream along the Seine from Vétheuil, retreating further from the hustle and bustle of modern life in Paris. In the late 1880s increased sales of his work through the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery enabled him to purchase a house and modest estate. There, in a plot of land adjoining his home, he constructed a refuge – his now-famous water garden, with a Japanese footbridge spanning the lily pond at its narrowest point.
In 1899 Monet began a series of eighteen views of the wooden footbridge over the pond, completing twelve paintings, including The water lily pond, 1900, which features in Colour & Light: Impressionism from France & America. These works have an obvious debt to Japanese art, both in the subject (the Japanese bridge), and in style. The flatness of the painted surface, with little depth illusion, and the compositional feature of the bridge bisecting the top third of the painting, owe a lot to ukiyo-prints (pictures of the floating world).
Ironically, Monet’s home at Giverny, intended as a sanctuary, also became a place of pilgrimage for American artists. In the summer of 1885-86 Willard Metcalf ‘discovered’ Giverny. Although in this first instance, the presence of Monet may have been incidental to his discovery of the village, he subsequently made a radical shift to Impressionism.
In 1887 Metcalf was joined by several Americans, whose principal gathering place was the Hotel Baudy. The painting titled The ten cent breakfast, 1887 (not in Colour & Light) is from that summer. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson is seated at the right, reading, and the figure opposite may be Metcalf himself. Gradually, an American colony was established in Giverny – the hotel even added six rooms to accommodate them, and by the 1890s the hosts were presiding over an inn that contained more than 20 guests, a dining room, several studios, vegetable and flower gardens, even a tennis court.
The influx caused Monet to confess a decade later:
…so many artists, students flock here, I have often thought of moving away.
The enthusiasm of American artists for nineteenth-century French painting, and their influence on private collectors played a key part in shaping the emerging collections of art in the United States. By the 1890s, Boston Museum of Fine Arts was displaying 8 Monet paintings on loan from private collections, and by 1925, the Fine Arts Museum at Boston held over 20 works by Monet in its collection.
Colour & Light explores this relationship between French art and American artists, showcasing key works from the Impressionist movement alongside those American artists inspired by the new style in art.
See the exhibition Colour & Light: Impressionism from France & America in Te Ihomatua | Gallery on 4 until 12 January. Admission charges apply.
Blog by Rebecca Rice, Curator Historical New Zealand Art