Kunstmuseum Den Haag explores Claude Monet’s garden paintings

Monet – The Garden Paintings presented at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag brings together no fewer than forty masterpieces from collections across the globe. Monet painted them in preparation for his magnum opus: the Grandes Décorations.

At the heart of the exhibition is one of the most popular paintings in the Kunstmuseum’s collection: Wisteria. This survey is the follow-up to the groundbreaking Monet retrospective mounted by the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (then the Haags Gemeentemuseum) in 1952, which contributed to the rediscovery of Monet’s works.

Restorer Ruth Hoppe got the surprise of her life when she viewed the X-ray she made of the painting Wisteria. This masterpiece, one of three paintings by Monet in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, had been taken from the galleries to the restoration studio for the first time. One of the techniques Hoppe employed to investigate old damage to the canvas was an X-ray. While she expected to gain a greater understanding of the damage to the painting, she was not expecting to find a group of water lilies in the image.

Curator Frouke van Dijke: ‘Wisteria was already a very special canvas since there are only seven Monet paintings in the world with this subject, whereas the water lilies are iconic for Monet. That this motif is hidden beneath Wisteria makes this canvas even more extraordinary and allows several pieces of the puzzle to fall into place in the story of one of the most popular works in our collection.’ This discovery and the extraordinary history of this masterpiece is one of the story lines in the exhibition.

At Giverny, France, Monet increasingly shut himself from the outside world and concentrated on depicting his garden. Between 1883 and 1926 he painted the reflections on his water lily pond hundreds of times. The first of these paintings were in the tradition of Impressionism, but over time Monet employed an increasingly expressive visual idiom. He rejected any suggestion of depth and no longer required his subject to be recognisable. Instead of depicting fleeting moments, Monet’s monumental garden paintings exude an atmosphere of timelessness. This makes the Giverny period not only the most productive of Monet’s life but also one in which he underwent an important artistic development. The old painter, a pioneer in the nineteenth century for his role in Impressionism, succeeded in reinventing himself in the twentieth century.

Image: Claude Monet (1840-1926), Water lilies, 1914-17, oil on canvas, 166,1 x 142,2 cm, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.