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Review: Monet’s Garden Exhibition at NGV

Diane Leow

Wed May 22 2013

Claude Monet’s Waterlilies

FANCY visiting Claude Monet’s iconic garden without flying to France? Diane Leow reviews NGV’s new exhibition dedicated to the impressionist. 

Unknown Claude Monet outside his house at Giverny 1921 autochrome 18.0 x 24.0 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris © Patrice Schmidt /musée d'Orsay distribution RMN

Claude Monet outside his house at Giverny 1921
18.0 x 24.0 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© Patrice Schmidt /musée d’Orsay distribution RMN

Claude Monet’s garden was renowned for its ethereal beauty. It’s something the artist himself seemed to obsess over in life and in art. From his infamous painting of waterlilies, Monet gradually built himself a garden outside of the canvas and used it as a way to remind himself and his loved ones of the beauty that existed in this world.

As he famously said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”

For the first time, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) presents the largest collection of Monet paintings ever brought to Australia. There are 60 paintings in total, 50 of which come from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, while the rest come from Japan, the United States of America and the National Gallery in Canberra.

The exhibition, which is part of NGV’s the Melbourne Winter Masterpiece series, is dedicated to Claude Monet’s iconic garden in Giverny, France. It’s presented in different mediums, beginning, of course, with paintings. These are displayed chronologically, starting with Monet’s first painting of waterlilies and some portraits of his family.

From here, the exhibition progresses to a difficult period in Monet’s life. It was the Great Depression and Monet seemed lost both in life and in his artistic direction. In this section, you’ll see a series of paintings he made at the encouragement of his family and friends. Here, he recreates a world of beauty that seems larger than life – a tonic to the reality during the Depression.

The exhibited paintings conclude with a series of almost-abstract pieces that deviate from Monet’s usual Impressionist style. These can be attributed to his eye injury, and heavily feature forests. Even after his eyesight recovered, Monet continued to paint the scenes he saw with his impaired eyesight. At the end, visitors are treated to a short film of Monet’s garden in Giverny, which brings to life the paintings and the artist’s vision.

Our verdict

I didn’t expect to enjoy Monet’s Garden. I thought it would be a typical boring art exhibition, but I was surprised at how successfully NGV brought Monet’s garden in Giverny, France to urban Melbourne, Australia. The beauty of Monet’s paintings is undeniable, but I felt the curators really captured the human side of the artist too.

The paintings he developed while suffering through the Great Depression and his never-say-die spirit when he worked on pieces for several years were an inspiration. While I am no artist myself, I simply cannot imagine working on something for years and years on end without despairing and eventually giving up.

The multimedia aspect of the exhibition was also something I didn’t expect. The short film of Monet’s garden in Giverny tied the entire presentation together. As the film is projected on a curved screen, it has a somewhat 3D effect, transporting you to Giverny right then and there.

As someone who doesn’t appreciate art on a regular basis, I found myself transfixed by Monet’s works. Even if you’re not an ‘art person’, I’d recommend visiting Monet’s Garden if you like beauty. It is definitely worth an afternoon and $22.50. And if you love France, this is the next best thing to flying straight there!

Monet’s Gardenis on now till September 8. Tickets cost $22.50 for students. For more info, check out the NGV website.