New York

Claude Monet

Richard L. Feigen And Co

The Monet show is hard to judge, partly because of the installation, which is extremely bad. Not many paintings of the last hundred and fifty or so years would appear to advantage in such narrow quarters, and Monet’s after the 1870s are not among them. The hanging, conspicuously without chronology, was also bewildering. The paintings had, in addition, to fight a décor of marble and metal that subdued all but two or three, which were painted in a kind of art nouveau style that is of course very closely related to the Pop art déco of the gallery. The selection is also bad—where the paintings are good, they are very well known; where they are less familiar they are often bad. This is not the time for an overall survey of Monet anyway—by now the old view of his work, as part of a coherent movement called Impressionism, of which the aim was to render sensations, has been almost wholly discredited, but nothing has come along yet to take its place. The catalog preface attempts, through statements by the gallery’s owner and quotations by subsequent artists (including Billy Kluver), to suggest a new view of Monet, but like all writing on Monet by those who are not academic art historians (who in this particular subject come off very well) it is ignorant and pretentious, although not necessarily wrong—about that it is too soon to say. What is needed are careful studies of detail by those who are qualified to do them.

The exhibition begins with a small group of paintings that show the combination of early Corot, Courbet and Bazille that is to be found also in Pissarro and Sisley. What happened next we cannot know, because from the years between 1872 and 1880 only four paintings are shown. This is the period—in my opinion, the only period—during which Monet’s work may, but need not, be taken as conforming to the usual definition of Impressionism. What we cannot study are whatever pictorial problems Monet faced during those years, and so we do not know whether subsequent developments in his art were attempts to avoid these problems or were solutions of them in the usual sense of the word. At any rate, by the early eighties one finds in Monet’s work pronounced, wavy, linear patterns which are an expression of art nouveau, but they are not clearly represented in this show—rather, one can sense them at work in the paintings in this show if one knows others in which such rhythms are more clear and more important. The other, and apparently more fundamental, development in Monet’s work after the seventies are the series of paintings on a single theme, but unfortunately in this exhibition one finds only isolated paintings from the series, except for three water-lily scenes spanning twenty years and two of the Japanese bridge covering about the same period of time. Thus, one is unable to decide whether, for example, the three views of the shore at Pourville of about 1897 (why so many?) are serial in the same sense as the haystacks or the Rouen cathedral, of which only one painting each is shown, or not. In any case one would have the problem of relating the paintings to Monet’s own writings, which seem, but may not mean, to say that what Monet is trying to render all along are sensations. The still lifes and, after the seventies, the figure pieces in the show are both bad and not characteristic, and so is the one Venetian scene. For the serious student a show like this one is terribly frustrating; like most dealers’ shows of major 19th-century figures, poor quality and random representation prevail.

Jerrold Lanes