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Saturday, November 28, 2020

A rare glimpse at a genre-defining work

There are many spots in Canberra that offer the early birds a magnificent view of the sunrise. But if getting up and braving the cold for that fleeting moment isn’t your bag, the NGA’s winter exhibition might just be the ticket.

For the first time ever, Australian audiences have the opportunity to see Claude Monet’s iconic masterpiece, Impression, sunrise – the highlight of the National Gallery of Australia’s 2019 winter exhibition and the painting that gave Impressionism its name.

Monet: Impression Sunrise presents a remarkable collection of paintings by Monet that both defined the Impressionist movement and inspired a generation of French painters, who abandoned their studios for the world outside.

Many of these masterpieces are drawn from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, who hold the largest collection of Monet in the world, and rarely loan those works, even within the French capital.

NGA Curator, Simeran Maxwell, told Canberra Weekly it’s been an incredible opportunity for both herself and the gallery to develop an exhibition around such an important work of art.

Impression, sunrise 1872 is the highlight of the NGA’s 2019 winter exhibition and the painting that gave Impressionism its name. Photo Christian Baraja SLB.

“Every gallery has its knockout work, the thing that underpins the collection, and for them to lend it, at all, let alone to Australia. We’re such a long way away from Europe … It is very hard to convince collections to lend such a long distance, there’s problems of fragility, especially with works of this age, this has been through a couple of world wars.

“We’re really lucky that they saw the strength in what we wanted to achieve, and that Marianne (Mathieu, Scientific Director of the Musée Marmottan Monet) was so positive about working on this project,” Maxwell said.

Monet: Impression Sunrise takes visitors on a journey through Monet’s exploration of light and his influential masterpiece that marked the dawn of Impressionism, right through to his study of nature, culminating with his most loved waterlily series.

Maxwell said Monet’s everlasting adoration is in part due to the fact he was a very savvy artist.

“He wanted to be a radical, but he also was very driven to be a successful artist, and with that means that you have to have a market.

“He was constantly dancing that line and making sure that his work was never too much for people, and with Impression, sunrise, he was really at the point where he was pushing that boundary and seeing what people would accept.”

Maxwell said Impression, sunrise pushed the envelope to the point where people initially didn’t accept it or see it as a finished work.

“Now we look at things like Impression, sunrise, and then what he went on to achieve with our marvellous Haystacks, and then even the Water Lilies series, which wasn’t popular for many years, he still wasn’t afraid, and people came to accept it,” she said.

NGA Director, Nick Mitzevich, and Scientific Director of the Musée Marmottan Monet, Marianne Mathieu, collaborated extensively to bring Monet: Impression Sunrise to Canberra. Photo supplied.

“People have now realised that’s the way they see the world, and you see that having a knock-on effect in Australian Impressionism … it’s really nice to see how that resonates through our collection and how artists today interpret the world.”

NGA Director, Nick Mitzevich, said he sought to bring these masterful works to Canberra to ensure Australians have access to the “most extraordinary works that define our history”.

“In 1979, the NGA acquired two works that are now icons in our collection, Haystacks and Water Lilies, and they’re two works of art that this exhibition puts in context.

“With the great help and support of the Musée Marmottan we’re able to tell the story of where impressionism started,” he said.

Monet: Impression Sunrise is on display at the NGA until 1 September; ticketek.com.au

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