Monet's sister paintings reunited in the US

Claude Monet’s two paintings of The Artist’s Garden At Vetheuil are seen unframed at the National Gallery of Art’s conservation laboratory in Washington.
Claude Monet’s two paintings of The Artist’s Garden At Vetheuil are seen unframed at the National Gallery of Art’s conservation laboratory in Washington. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Can paintings, just like human siblings, finally meet up again after many long years of separation? In the case of two Claude Monet artworks, yes.

For the first time since they were painted more than a century ago, two oil paintings of Monet's garden in Vetheuil, France, have been reunited in Washington.

Monet moved to the village of Vetheuil in the Paris suburbs in 1878 with his sick wife Camille and their two young children as they faced financial difficulties, along with the family of one-time patron Ernest Hoschede.

The period that ensued was one of the most prolific for the French Impressionist, who produced - in just three years - nearly 300 paintings, including The Artist's Garden At Vetheuil (1881).

Until Aug 8, the National Gallery of Art in Washington is presenting two of four known works of this lush summer scene with huge sunflowers. One is its own, larger piece and the other is on loan from California's Norton Simon Museum.

"It's a turning point in terms of his career, his struggles; he's turning more towards landscape, he's becoming more interested in atmospheric effects," said Ms Kimberly Jones, National Gallery curator of 19th-century French paintings.

The Norton Simon's version, which is believed to have served as a model for its companion, is more heavily worked in most areas.

Norton Simon assistant curator Emily Talbot said: "Before these two pictures were together, we always described the handling of this one as quite loose because we didn't have another example, and we had always believed ours was a study for the larger picture.

"All of the things that have been published about these two pictures, we're starting to question just by having them in the same space."

Where Monet layered meridian green thickly on top of cobalt blue to give more interest to the sky in the Norton Simon's picture, in the companion piece, it is defined instead by contrasts of thick and thin, and patches of exposed canvas ground.

Ms Ann Hoenigswald, the National Gallery's senior conservator of paintings, spent months removing a discoloured natural resin varnish from the museum's masterpiece that had flattened the work visually. "The minute I got the varnish off, it just soared," she said.

"What I find really exciting is the energy of the brushwork. You see the richness of the impasto (technique of laying on paint in thick layers) and the speed at which he moved his brush across, and all the bristles of the brush, or a little lip of paint that just comes straggling there," she pointed out.

It was not until almost 10 years later, in 1890, that Monet began painting formal series.

Each comprised dozens of works depicting a single subject - the Rouen Cathedral, London's Houses of Parliament or water lilies - at different seasons or times of the day, usually from the same vantage point.

The garden proto-series "could be the germ of an idea that's just starting to develop in his mind", said Ms Jones.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline 'Monet's sister paintings reunited in the US'. Subscribe