When we walked into the Vancouver Art Gallery to join the line up, it was five minutes after opening. As we entered the visitors were jammed up at the beginning of the “Claude Monet’s Secret Garden” exhibition showing 38 out of 94 of his paintings that had been in his personal private collection. So we walked through the middle of the show and went to end and this is where I am going to start today. Monet’s last painting followed his cataract surgery and he was extremely excited to be able to see clearly again. The painting is listed as “Les Roses” in the exhibition but it is also known as “The Rose Bush” elsewhere online. It is huge at maybe 5 x 9 feet or 6 x 9 feet. I am not exactly sure because I couldn’t find any reference to its size either with the exhibition materials or online. But here it is.
“Les Roses” or “The Rose Bush” by Claude Monet 1925-26.
Please note: all images of Monet’s work have been shared for personal study. No image can be used for any other purpose.
Let’s take a moment and explore what we notice about this work. What stands out to you? How is this work maybe different than what you thought you knew about Monet’s paintings? How is it familiar with what you already know?
I personally had no knowledge about this painting and was so surprised to see it. My first thought was – this isn’t in my extensive reference books on Monet! But then I doubted myself until I could get home and check. However, I was right. This painting is in neither of my complete (or rather incomplete) volumes of Monet’s life’s work.
I was mesmerized and absolutely fascinated with this painting. He would have been 85 to 86 years old when he did this work during the last year of his life. What a way to finish his many years of painting!
It took four years to negotiate the exhibition between the Vancouver Art Gallery and the private Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris France. The Vancouver exhibition is showing 38 out of 94 paintings in the collection. In 1966 Monet’s son, Michel Monet, left the Musée Marmottan Monet his own collection of his father’s work, thus creating the world’s largest collection of Monet paintings. My only complaint is that there is no catalogue sharing some of the stories I am going to retell to you here based on my notes of the guided tour for the exhibition which, if you get the chance I highly recommend you partake. First walk through and become familiar with all 38 paintings. Don’t waste time reading the chronology and notes on the wall because this can be found online and in other books later. Next do the tour. Then go through the exhibit one more time to integrate what you have learned. If you live in the Vancouver area and can go more than once – do! It is much more economical than a trip to France.
Often, we hear timing is everything. In Monet’s case there are a couple of events around his time in history worth noting.
In 1839 photograph was developed, one year before Monet born. Before this time it had been up to painters to record the realism of events and paint portraits of famous and not so famous people. Paintings were a visual record of events. Photography was expected to change all this and there was speculation that this would be the end of painting. I mean why labour over a painting when you can have a photo-realistic image in a flash!? By the time Monet was attending art school he would have been in the thick of this debate. Now, particularly for those of us that are both photographers and painters, we better understand the limitations of photographic realism which is limited and has difficulty capturing our lived experiences due to camera distortion and limitations in rendering natural light. But photographs were all new and filled our imagined possibilities at the time. To this day, there are splits in painting approaches between high-realism, full-sensory painting impressions and expressionism abstraction. Personally, I find these splits more theoretical than directly applied to painting practice by painters (and the older I get the more I notice this) but it is worth noting these divisions just the same.
In 1841 tubes of paint were invented by American artist John Rand, one year after Monet born. Up until this time a painter had to mix the pigments with oils, grinding them together to the right consistency every day or at the very least every few days. The painter, or their assistants, had to a difficult task to accomplish before they could ever begin painting a chosen subject. Hence, most painting was done within the studio or indoors. Tube paints changed all this. They stayed usable for long periods of time and were easy to transport out of doors – hence painting en plein air became possible and popular in the years following. The invention of tube paints was a game changer for painters and painting practice – even in the studio.
But let’s go back to “Les Roses” and take in those fragrant blooming brambles one more time. Notice how the paint is mixed right on the canvas, blended and swept together in large gestural movements. Look at the painting close and then step back from your screen and see how the roses themselves disappear into the swirls of colour. Take note of how Monet leaves parts of the canvas bare near the edges. This is not because he wasn’t finished but rather because of an aesthetic of allowing the painter’s process to be visible or letting paint be paint.
In next week’s post we will speculate about how he came to this place in the last large painting rendered at the end of his long and productive life.
What impressions come to mind as you view “Les Roses” by Claude Monet?
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Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to http://terrillwelchartist.com