A Glimpse Inside Claude Monet’s Private Art World
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Almost a century since his death, the French painter Claude Monet enjoys near-universal notoriety. His depictions of the water lilies in his pond at Giverny, outside Paris, appear on coffee mugs, posters and coasters around the world, and have helped turn Monet into a household name.
What few people realize is that Monet was also a major art collector. He possessed dozens of paintings, including masterpieces, by both his precursors and his contemporaries — from Delacroix and Corot to Manet, Renoir and Cézanne.
The Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris is showing 77 paintings, watercolors and sculptures owned by the artist in an exhibition titled “Monet Collectionneur” (“Monet the Collector,” ending Jan. 14). Many come from the museum itself, which owns the world’s largest number of Monets, as well as countless other artworks that once belonged to the artist and that were donated by his second son, Michel. Other lenders include New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art in Washington; and museums in Brazil, Japan and Germany.
Monet’s motivations in acquiring art were very different from those of the average buyer.
“There’s a big difference between an artist collecting and a rich person collecting,” said Ann Dumas, a curator at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. “It was rare for artists to buy as an investment. Their overwhelming concern was admiring what another artist had done. They often really loved other artists’ work and using it as an example and an inspiration. It was much more personal and tied to their own creative process.”
Ms. Dumas said that the other great artist-collector of the period was Edgar Degas (she curated exhibitions of his collections at London’s National Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1996 and 1997-98). When these were posthumously auctioned at sales in Paris in 1918, the National Gallery in London made numerous purchases that now form the core of its 19th-century collection.
Many works formerly owned by Degas were displayed in a 2016 exhibition titled “Painters’ Paintings,” which also featured artworks owned by Anthony van Dyck, Matisse and Lucian Freud.
“Looking at an artist’s collection can be compared to entering a mind, and accessing a usually overlooked dimension of his or her activities, yet it is one of the most essential, as it offers clues for a correct, deep and multifaceted understanding of their art,” Anne Robbins, a curator at the National Gallery, wrote in the exhibition catalog. “Painters’ paintings represent the very continuation of their artistic production.”
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