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Monet's early days revealed

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-02-24 15:24

Monet's early days revealed

Visitor examine Claude Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass at a new exhibition Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco from Feb 25 through May 29. [Photo by LIA ZHU / CHINA DAILY]

Chinese tourists flocking to European museums to see Claude Monet's paintings now have a chance to learn about the formative years of the French master — in San Francisco.

Monet: The Early Years, the first major show in the US devoted to the initial phase of Monet's (1840–1926) career, will be on view at the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum from Feb 25 through May 29.

"Monet is an important and beloved artist. There are very few Monets in Chinese collections, so it is a unique opportunity to experience them in San Francisco," said Max Hollein, director and CEO of the museum, the largest public art institution in Northern California, comprising the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park and the de Young in Golden Gate Park.

The exhibition demonstrates the radical invention that marked the artist's development from 1858 to 1872, when the young painter developed his unique visual language and technique.

"It's not just another Monet show," said Esther Bell, co-curator of the exhibition.

"It's about the making of the artist that one knows as Monet. It's about the young, unbridled genius."

"It's very daring and unexpected in many ways. It's like the trajectory of the young Monet," she added.

Through more than 50 paintings on loan from some of the most important international collections — the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in Washington, the Met in New York and other public and private collections worldwide — visitors can see the emergence of Monet's pre-Impressionism style and how he helped shape the movement.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to see Monet's mastery — before Impressionism," said Hollein.

He admitted that it had been difficult to arrange the loans, calling it a "major achievement". The companion exhibition, Monet: The Late Years, will come to San Francisco in 2019.

The paintings on display depict many genres — not only landscapes, but also still lifes, portraits and genre scenes. From the works, viewers can see the struggle and failure as well as early success of the artist.

The show opens with the first painting Monet ever exhibited in public, View Near Rouelles, on loan from a Japanese collection, which the artist painted in 1858 at the age of 17. The work displays an early mastery of oil painting through its brilliant handling of color.

Highlights also include two remnants from a large-scale figure painting Luncheon on the Grass (1865–1866), featuring his wife and a few other artists in response to a painting of the same title by Édouard Manet.

Daunted by its large size, Monet abandoned the painting, which he eventually presented as collateral to a landlord when his rent was late. By the time Monet could afford to get the painting back, the canvas had become moldy. Monet cut the canvas into several pieces, two of which survived.

"We expect a lot of international visitors, including from China," Hollein said. "We have already had many special tours from China with their own guides, and going forward we are hoping to be able to establish a group of docents with skills in the Chinese language."

Aside from the great visitorship from China, the museum is receiving a rapidly growing interest in its website. Last year, the museum saw a 125-percent increase in Chinese visitors.

"On the one hand, it comes from the excitement about San Francisco as a destination, on the other hand, the museums arrange unique and interesting exhibitions and enjoy perfect locations — in Lincoln Park and Golden Gate Park — both popular destinations for tourists," said Hollein.

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