Claude Monet as an emotive artist? Hitherto, I have viewed Monet’s painting – or at least Monet the Impressionist – as sensual but detached. Having seen Monet’s Garden at the National Gallery of Victoria, I am now of the view that the artist’s later painting (the exhibition focuses on the work made at Giverny from 1893 until the artist’s death in 1926) has a subliminal and even expressionist dimension. How else to characterise the elegiac quality of the wonderful water lily series and the late abstract-like garden paintings made with such abandon? Moreover, having learned more about Monet himself at this time, I appreciate that he was far more challenged by life experiences than I had presumed, in spite of the tremendous critical and commercial success he enjoyed in the last decades of his career.
In addition to the paintings in the exhibition, with their accompanying wall text, the essays and vignettes in the Monet’s Garden catalogue contribute much to one’s insight. While contextualising Monet’s Giverny period with earlier works that include examples from his London series, the catalogue text concentrates on the context of the garden itself. The creation of the Giverny garden, and its meanings both metaphorical and personal, are the primary concern.