Comparisons to Monet Bothered This Artist. Now They’re Side by Side.
When one art critic, who’s done a reasonable job of identifying the artists, called a picture “the Monet of the moment,” I wasn’t sure which Monet he was talking about. Maybe a Monet in the Monet Museum in Paris, that painting Monet painted in 1914. Or maybe the Monet Museum in New York, where Monet now is. Or maybe a Monet in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.
I’m starting to realize that Monet is the Monet of art. And Monet is the Monet of art. After a brief survey of his work, this seems the logical and appropriate step. He was a great painter. But his fame is based on his achievement at the very end of a long artistic tradition, on his unsurpassed ability to paint from nature at the very last minute—even as he, a French aristocrat, was being called “an upstart.” In Monet, the artist’s genius had taken over, leaving a painter’s handmaiden to do what he couldn’t do himself—to paint what he couldn’t paint himself. Monet is best understood when seen in the company of other great 19th-century artists—including William Turner, William Henry Fox, Alfred Stevens, and Thomas Gainsborough—when seen against some of the standards of modern art. To take the current exhibition, “Monet and Turner in Their Own Words,” at the Walker this spring, as an example, it’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate partner.
The Walker Exhibition, which opens with the first of two Monet group shows, is arranged in a way that shows not just the genius of Monet, but also the genius of the painter who succeeded him—in turn, Monet’s successor, Alfred Stevens. Every work in the exhibition is based on a photograph or an actual painting, and every photograph is accompanied by a short text about Monet and the story of the picture. There are six paintings in the exhibition, five of which were painted by Monet himself. There are three paintings by