MONET – THE GARDEN PAINTINGS at Kunst Museum in The Hague

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Waterlilies, 1916-1919, oil on canvas, 150 x 197 cm, Musée Marmottan.

In case you think: new museum? No, the The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum changed its name into Kunstmuseum Den Haag, a few weeks ago. The name reflects the museum’s focus – great art.

Great art is certainly to be found in the museum’s exhibition Monet – The Garden Paintings. This exhibition shows works Claude Monet created at Giverny between roughly 1900 and 1926.

This summer, the museum announced the exhibition would show a unique work. Not new, for it had actually been in the collection for decades. It was being restored for this exhibition and during restoration, experts discovered something odd.

X-ray photos revealed a secret! Monet had started painting waterlilies, changed his mind and reused this canvas to paint the wisteria, draping the Japanese bridge in his Giverny garden. Not that visitors will spot waterlilies, standing in front of the work.  

It belongs to a special series, Monet’s Grandes Décorations. These were Monet’s gift to his country, commemorating peace after the horrors of World War I. The series consisted of large panels of waterlilies with other panels of wisteria. Monet intended the latter to be hung above the series of waterlilies.

But the exhibition space for which Monet created these works, changed. Ever visited the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris? You saw the waterlilies; but it never had room to exhibit accompanying wisterias.

These and many of Monet’s now famous garden paintings, were actually considered lesser works. Critics and the public thought these works were created by a now old-fashioned painter, old and going blind. When he died, many of his works were left in his abandoned studio. Worse followed: during the Second World War, the glass roof of this studio shattered, damaging the abandoned paintings.

Visitors will not detect the damage in the completely restored painting. Wisteria now takes pride of place in one of the last rooms in this exhibition. There, it is surrounded by three other wisteria-paintings from the series. These are loaned to this exhibition by other museums: a unique chance to admire them in The Hague.

This is not all! There is the well-known painting of three women, fishing in a boat. It usually hangs in the famous Musée d’Orsay, in Paris. In the same room, visitors see Monet’s impression of a haystack in a snowy landscape. Two other works from this series of haystacks are currently displayed in the Van Gogh Museum’s impressive exhibition on Millet. 

And what about Monet’s now best loved paintings of waterlilies?  Of course, visitors to this exhibition will not be disappointed!

Not only does this exhibition show one of the  famous paintings of the Japanese bridge, loaned by London’s National Gallery. There are plenty ‘nympheas’: Monet’s beloved waterlilies. There are studies, oil-painting sketches, finished paintings, drawings.

Interesting to learn, that like Vincent van Gogh, Monet did not want his works to be varnished. Instead, he did a trick with his paints. Even more interesting: Monet had a special term for his works capturing the ponds, lilies, weeping willows and other plants: water-scapes. 

These works show how he tried to capture impressions of changing skies, weather, sun, moon, clouds in his water-scapes. Of course, many museums loaned works to this temporary exhibition, but most are from the famous Musée Marmottan, in Paris.

Not that visitors will only come across works by Claude Monet at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. One of the museum’s ponds shows Floating Sky, by artist Ursula Palla. It is clearly inspired by Monet’s water-scapes. Just like these, her work captures and reflects changing skies, weather, sun, moon, clouds.

Inside the museum, between the Monet exhibition and the museum’s exhilarating fashion exhibition Let’s Dance!, visitors find a huge purple ‘forest’. It was created by artists Daniel Mancini and Inti Velez Botero, from the Spanish creative studio Wanda Barcelona. Monet’s weeping willows and wisterias inspired these artists. Kate 10th Oxtober 2019

MONET – THE GARDEN PAINTINGS at Kunstmuseum in The Hague continues until 2nd February 2020