Say the name “Claude Monet” and images of large scale water lily paintings and distant haystacks are rightfully conjured. This is the Monet most of the public knows and loves. From now until January 6th at the Sabancı Museum, however, audiences will have a chance to see the rarely glimpsed intimate side of Monet and his art.
The unprecedented exhibition works in partnership with the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris and its curator, Marianne Mathieu, to bring the uncharacteristically small paintings from Monet’s private exhibition to Istanbul. To get into the right mood for the quieter side of Monet’s ouvre, the audience descends into a room with screens showing the tranquil portions of the famous Clos Normand garden as it is today with the gentle rush of breezes running fingers through grasses and trees. It was in this garden that Monet created a life completely independent of literary and Parisian society, and a statement contra to the heavily planned 19th century gardens and urban landscaping first of Napoleon III and then of Georges-Eugène Haussmann who created the Paris we recognize today.
The garden, a work which was original in its time, acted in union with its location and geography, was allowed to run wild with a rough geometry, and was an obsession of Monet’s, particularly the creation of the lily pond. In total, the creation of the garden took fifteen years and took Monet away from his painting, as much as it would later feed his play with mixing the exotic with the ordinary in his best known work. He saw his garden as a form of self knowledge, and in fact worked in it so much that at his death, his gardeners carried his coffin.
In the exhibition, we are treated to portraits of Monet’s children which he painted only for home viewing and two very special portraits of Monet and his first wife, Camille, by his friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The majority of the exhibition, however, has Monet’s intense impressionist style on display, as well as the effects of his gradually declining vision due to cataracts on his paintings. The brush strokes grow wilder and shapes less distinct over the period, until 1923 when he had the cataracts operated on. From then on the shapes of his work become whispier and sparser, focusing more and more on the essence of his beloved flowers. Though he destroyed many of his paintings from the period of his decreased vision after his operation, he was proud to know that he had painted as he had seen and nothing more.
Indeed this major coup for the Sabancı Museum is our own sort of triumph for sight and for Monet’s vision to be seen in Istanbul. The “vibrant sensation” that we get as we see Monet’s work, as George Clemanceau, Monet’s friend and prominent biographer, as well as a former prime minister of France said, is something we feel very lucky to have seen and we know that you’ll want to wander in Monet’s garden again, just as we did, when we got to the end of the exhibition.