Art review: Monet & Architecture, National Gallery, London
As Richard Thomson, curator of Monet & Architecture, remarked at the press view for the exhibition, at first sight the title sounds counter-intuitive. On the one hand Monet was first of all a landscape painter and on the other the formalities of architecture seem scarcely to fit the art of atmosphere and dissolving light he pioneered. If you accept that architecture can mean often quite humble buildings, however, then the show makes wonderful sense. The first part covers Monet’s career from the 1860s to 1890s. The paintings include, sometimes quite inconspicuously, churches, houses, bridges, villages, city streets and a railway station. In most of the 70 or so pictures, people are either insignificant or altogether absent, unless implied in a building or buildings. These are not just compositional devices, however, nor merely accidental. Standing for time and history, for modernity, for the human presence, even for personal association, they open up Monet’s subject matter in unexpected ways.