Chicago col­lec­tors’ love af­fair with Monet show­cased in new Art In­sti­tute ex­hi­bi­tion

Chicago col­lec­tors’ love af­fair with French im­pres­sion­ist show­cased in new Art In­sti­tute ex­hibit

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY KYLE MACMIL­LAN For the Sun-Times

Few artists in his­tory have at­tained the en­dur­ing, nearuni­ver­sal ac­claim of Claude Monet. The French Im­pres­sion­ist’s paint­ings hold prime spots in top mu­se­ums world­wide, and ex­hi­bi­tions show­cas­ing him never fail to draw big crowds.

No in­sti­tu­tion be­yond France is more closely as­so­ci­ated with Monet than the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago. It boasts the largest col­lec­tion of his works out­side of Paris, and, in 1895, it be­came the first mu­seum in the United States to present an ex­hi­bi­tion of the artist’s paint­ings.

“There are many faces of the Art In­sti­tute, but peo­ple do as­so­ciate Monet with us,” said Glo­ria Groom, the Art In­sti­tute’s chair and David and Mary Win­ton Green Cu­ra­tor of paint­ing and sculp­ture of Europe.

To pay trib­ute to this long-stand­ing bond between in­sti­tu­tion and artist, the Art In­sti­tute has or­ga­nized “Monet and Chicago,” which opens to the pub­lic Sept. 5 and runs through Jan. 18, 2021. (Mem­ber previews are Sept. 3 and 4.) Fea­tur­ing 68 paint­ings and 14 works on pa­per, it is the mu­seum’s sixth solo ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to Monet and the first any­where to ex­plore in depth the Im­pres­sion­ist’s ties to the Windy City.

The ex­hi­bi­tion chron­i­cles 125 years of dis­plays and ac­qui­si­tions of Monet’s works by the Art In­sti­tute, as well as the at­ten­tion to the artist by no­table Chicago col­lec­tors such as Bertha and Pot­ter Palmer be­gin­ning in the 1880s and 1890s. Some of these en­thu­si­asts made pil­grim­ages to Paris to see and buy his works, and oth­ers pur­chased his paint­ings from ex­hi­bi­tions in the U.S.

Of the Art In­sti­tute’s 33 Monet paint­ings, just two were pur­chased by the mu­seum. The rest were do­nated by lo­cal col­lec­tors start­ing in the 1920s. “It’s phi­lan­thropy that has made our col­lec­tion, and that it is what we are cel­e­brat­ing with this ex­hi­bi­tion,” said Groom.

That en­thu­si­asm has not di­min­ished, as ev­i­denced by the more than 30 works bor­rowed from to­day’s col­lec­tors around the Chicago area, many of whom have cho­sen to re­main anony­mous. They en­com­pass both de­scen­dants of fam­ily mem­bers who pur­chased their hold­ings decades ago and more re­cent fans of the artist, in­clud­ing some the mu­seum just dis­cov­ered while or­ga­niz­ing this ex­hi­bi­tion. Mar­ian Phelps Pawlick, a mu­seum trustee, is bring­ing the mu­seum’s rich his­tory of Monet phi­lan­thropy into the 21st cen­tury, mak­ing a promised gift of “Boats Ly­ing at Low Tide at Fé­camp” (1881).

“Monet and Chicago” was orig­i­nally sched­uled May 10-Sept. 7 but post­poned af­ter the Art In­sti­tute closed in March be­cause of COVID19 man­dates.

Even be­fore the de­lay, or­ga­niz­ers had planned for a spa­cious dis­play in Re­gen­stein Hall, the mu­seum’s main spe­cial-ex­hi­bi­tion gallery, but safety con­cerns have com­pelled them to en­large the in­stal­la­tion for even bet­ter spac­ing and re­move some planned free-stand­ing par­ti­tions.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is un­der­girded by re­cent con­ser­va­tion re­search and art his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis con­ducted as part of “Monet Paint­ings and Draw­ings at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago” (ar­tic.

edu/dig­i­tal­monet), one in a se­ries of on­line cat­a­logs show­cas­ing the Im­pres­sion­ists in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion.

These repos­i­to­ries give re­searchers and Monet fans alike an un­prec

edented, up-close look below the sur­face at Monet’s tech­ni­cal process with zoomable and over­laid im­agery only pos­si­ble in such a dig­i­tal for­mat.

Re­search con­ser­va­tor Kim Muir, who has worked on these cat­a­logs for nearly all of her 15 years at the Art In­sti­tute, is par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about dis­cov­er­ies made dur­ing X-ray and in­frared ex­am­i­na­tions of the Art In­sti­tute’s ear­li­est Monet paint­ing, “The Beach at Sainte-Adresse” (1867).

Monet painstak­ingly re­worked this com­po­si­tion, trans­form­ing what be­gan as a scene de­voted to leisure yachts and tourists into one fo­cused on fish­er­men and sail­boats. “That was in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing to see these un­der­ly­ing com­po­si­tional el­e­ments for the first time that no one else was aware of,” Muir said.

As­pects of this in-depth re­search will be show­cased in an im­mer­sive three-minute video pro­jected onto three large screens in one of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s gal­leries. It will fo­cus on works from Monet’s “Stacks of Wheat,” “Lon­don” and “Wa­ter Lilies” se­ries.

Here are sev­eral other highlights of the ex­hi­bi­tion:

“Stacks of Wheat” se­ries (189091). Six paint­ings from this famed se­ries will be shown in one gallery, giv­ing visi­tors a sense of what it would have been like to have seen 15 of them together in 1891 for the first time at the Du­rand-Ruel Gallery in Paris. “This is the be­gin­ning of the se­rial paint­ing in mod­ern art,” Groom said. “It’s his big in­no­va­tion. It’s what changes his whole tra­jec­tory in 1891 when he does this for the first time.”

“Ap­ple Trees in Blos­som” (1872). Pur­chased by the Union League Club of Chicago, this can­vas was the first Monet paint­ing bought by a Chicago in­sti­tu­tion from the Art In­sti­tute’s 1895 ex­hi­bi­tion. “It’s a big deal that we have that here,” Groom said.

“Land­scape with Fig­ures, Giverny” (1888). This 31½-inch-square paint­ing shows five chil­dren from the fam­i­lies of Monet and Alice Hoschedé, whom the artist would even­tu­ally marry af­ter she was wid­owed. “You get this blaz­ing sun and these pinks and amaz­ing shad­ows,” Groom said. “For me, it’s one of the show­stop­pers.”

De­spite some­times rad­i­cal shifts in tastes and trends in the nearly 100 years since Monet’s death, the Im­pres­sion­ist’s work has never lost its al­lure. Groom cites such rea­sons as its time­less moder­nity and in­no­va­tive­ness and the ap­peal­ing tac­til­ity and dy­namism of his brush­work.

“Then there’s also the rec­og­niz­abil­ity of it,” she said. “We can rec­og­nize a Monet, and if you have trav­eled in France, you have seen fields like that. At Giverny, you can see what he was paint­ing.”

ABOVE: Claude Monet, “On the Bank of the Seine, Ben­necourt,” 1868. The Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, Pot­ter Palmer Col­lec­tion.


LEFT: Claude Monet, “Land­scape with Fig­ures, Giverny,” 1888. Pri­vate col­lec­tion.


Claude Monet, “The Beach at Saint-Ad­dresse,” 1867. The Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memo­rial Col­lec­tion.


Claude Monet. “Stack of Wheat (Snow Ef­fect, Over­cast Day),” 1890/91. The Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ry­er­son Col­lec­tion.


Claude Monet, “Ap­ple Trees in Blos­som,” 1872. Union League Club of Chicago.

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