Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 15 News List

There's more to Monet

Monet consciously suppressed most of his work executed on paper to bolster his image as a plein-air painter; a new exhibition of sketches and pastels reveals fresh insights on the famed painter


Bank of the Seine.


Claude Monet will forever be known for his dreamy Impressionist canvases of grain stacks and cathedrals, the seaside and of course the famous water lilies and gardens that surrounded his beloved home in Giverny. Unlike Degas, Cezanne or Pissarro, contemporaries whose reputations rested on works on paper as well as canvases, Monet was the epitome of the plein-air painter.

Whenever a journalist or collector asked him how he worked, he talked incessantly about the liberating possibilities of painting outdoors, forgoing any mention of the sketches, pastels and prints he quietly produced throughout his life.

"Monet wanted to present himself as the great painter of his day," said Richard Kendall, curator at large at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. "It was a kind of PR exercise, a way of defining himself. But the big, teasing question has always been why didn't he want people to know he drew?"

Three years ago, Kendall and James A. Ganz, the Clark's curator of prints, drawings and photographs, set out to answer that question. Their findings are the focus of The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings, an exhibition of about 100 works — drawings, sketchbooks and prints, along with some related paintings — that opens March 17 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The curators say their exhibition will show that Monet wasn't the anti-draftsman he led the public to believe, and that he relied on drawing both to prepare for his paintings and as an independent form of expression.

He drew throughout his seven-decade career, filling pocketsize sketchbooks when he was a truculent teenager and executing pastel drawings of seascapes when he was in his 20s. He drew in different ways using different materials, and in his final years made abstract crayon and pencil drawings as studies for his water-lily paintings.

Although Monet helped perpetrate the myth that he did not, and maybe even could not, draw, nearly 500 of more than 2,500 works mentioned in his catalogue raisonne are sketchbooks, drawings and pastels. Yet, until now, few scholars have paid much attention to them.

They figure prominently in the fifth and final volume of the catalogue raisonne, published by Daniel Wildenstein in 1991 and devoted primarily to works on paper. But when the catalogue raisonne was reprinted in 1996, that volume was dropped.

Ganz was unaware of just how little most scholars knew about Monet's drawings until he began researching a view of Rouen drawn in crayon in 1883 and owned by the Clark Institute. "It was an object that caught my eye especially because I knew it was done after a painting," he said.

(He said the painting, which is in a private European collection, will be united with the drawing for the first time in the exhibition.)

The more he began to dig, Ganz said, the more strongly he felt that there was no substantive scholarly examination of Monet's drawings.

He approached Kendall about the possibility of jointly organizing a small show centering on the Clark's Rouen drawing. But after embarking on their research, they began to envision a far larger exhibition. "We began asking colleagues about Monet's works on paper and consistently got the same reaction -- a blank stare," Ganz said.

After approaching MaryAnne Stevens, a Monet scholar at the Royal Academy, who agreed that the potential show could travel there, the two American curators set out to find as many of Monet's works on paper as they could. Searching in Japan as well as in Europe and the US, they eventually came up with the nearly 100 works that will be in the show.

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