Monet in York: ‘He literally painted this scene over two hundred and fifty times over 27 years’

An Interview with the Curator: Monet in York Art Gallery

(Image: York Art Gallery)

It’s official: one of the world’s most recognisable and most-loved paintings is now on show at York Art Gallery as part of the exhibition National Treasures: Monet in York. 

SCENE managed to catch the curator, Dr Beatrice Bertram, for a brief chat ahead of the exhibition’s opening day.

What is it about Monet that captivates people?

“I think it was a mixture of things, I think because he’s so familiar to us, we might think of him as a bit of a chocolate box but actually in his own time he was really avant-garde. Impressionism sprung during Monet’s time; he was one of the founders of impressionism. The whole idea of it is capturing the sensation, going out into the open air and capturing the visual impression in paint. He does that in a very distinct inimitable way. I think that’s why, you know, he did this painting called Impression Sunrise, that was exhibited at the first impressionism exhibition in 1874, and the whole impressionist movement was, in part, inspired by the name of that painting; even though that happened later. But I think also it’s just the universality of a painting like this. You know, Michaela, the artist we were talking to, was saying how accessible it is, how approachable it is. You know, this is a universal theme, gardens, flowers, water, bridges – these are all things. 

There’s something about the cropped viewpoint. Because there are no sort of sides, you’re sort of thrown straight in, transported into the canvas… immersed in it, in a way that in more formal compositions you might not be. You’re kind of in the pond. The perspective is strange, it’s sort of up-and-down and you’re in there and you can picture yourself in the garden with those amazing pink water lilies and the willows on the edges. 

There’s something in the physical process of his painting too isn’t there?

“Yes, these really distinctive brushstrokes and the thick impasto, the paint layers being built up. And yet, there’s something about it which, at the time, was remarkable and has gone on to have this incredible impact on modern art. So yes, I think there’s something about that, this idea of impressionism and capturing a sensation which is very universal and something we can all have a go at!

Personally, what’s your favourite thing about Monet?

“I suppose my favourite thing is Monet’s devotion to what he is capturing. He doesn’t do it by halves, so from 1899, when this painting was made, he then goes on for the next 27 years literally painting this scene over two hundred and fifty times and it’s becoming more and more abstract and he’s zooming further and further into water, in reflection, in the water lilies. But the fact that he devoted the last quarter of his life to doing this amazing depiction of this water lily pond, there’s something about that that’s so amazing, just as an act.

I find that quite impressive. I guess the other thing for me is that it makes you feel a bit uplifted. There’s something about a work like this that makes you feel uplifted, whether it’s just, as we were talking about, accessible, the colour palette and you know, the view of the gardens.” 

The National Treasures: Monet in York is now open, 10th May – 8th September at York Art Gallery.

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