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Dreaming big leads to huge Monet show _ with 50 works _ at three U.S. regional museums

Dreaming big leads to huge Monet show _ with 50 works _ at three U.S. regional museums

When David Steel floated the idea of a Claude Monet exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art, he dreamed of hosting a show featuring 15 paintings by the impressionist master.
Museum director Larry Wheeler wasn't interested. His advice: "Dream bigger."
The result is "Monet in Normandy," an exhibition of 50 works painted during Monet's years in the coastal French province. It's the kind of ambitious show typically seen at much grander museums such the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or The Art Institute of Chicago, and one pulled together only when Steel joined with museums in Cleveland and San Francisco to share costs and call in favors from larger institutions.
"In the Southeast, there are not all that many museums that have the wherewithal to do a Monet exhibition," said Steel, the museum's curator of European art, who has worked on the exhibit for more than five years. "We've been in existence 50 years and we've never done it. It's a big opportunity for us and for people in the region.
"Monet is the best-known artist in the world, but not all that many people have seen 50 Monets in one place. ... And there's nothing like seeing these pictures face-to-face."
Steel's original idea was for a show of about 15 pictures built around one of the museum's two Monets, "The Cliff, Etreat, Sunset." He learned later that the museum's other Monet, "The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists," also was painted in Normandy, an area in northern France along the English Channel.
Then Wheeler said that he wanted more, sparking the idea for a large-scale Monet exhibition focused on the painter's time in Normandy, a theme no other museum had explored. Over the next five years, the North Carolina museum made deals with the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco, which handled shipping, insurance and transportation, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, which took care of the show's finances.
"It's always good to have impossible goals," said Rick Brettell, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and one of the world's foremost experts on impressionist paintings. "In a way, regional museums have been content with their status as regional museums and have not acted aggressively in the marketplace of exhibitions.
"And this exhibition has taught us that everybody has the right to see Monets, not just people who live in New York, Chicago, London and Paris."
An exhibition of works by Monet carries unique complications because of his popularity. In 1995, a show at The Art Institute of Chicago was so popular that scalpers sold tickets for six times their face value. More than 301,000 people visited "Monet in Normandy" at the Legion of Honor before the exhibit closed Sept. 17, according to Barbara Traisman, spokeswoman for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
To build the show, requests for Monet paintings went out to 75 to 80 museums and individual collectors across the world, who often receive up to 10 such queries a year. They are usually refused by museums unwilling to lose their biggest draw and individual owners worried that the paintings could end up on loan full-time, instead of on the wall in their homes.
So Steel and curators in Cleveland and San Francisco relied on their past willingness to loan works from their museums and started to call in favors. Brettell did the math and realized the three museums had, in the past 20 years, loaned hundreds of paintings to museums in Boston, New York, London and Chicago.
"When you remind these terribly grand institutions used to everyone lending to them and never lending to anyone, it even gives these snobby directors pause," Brettell said. "It created the conditions for great works of art coming back to those cities rather than great works of art leaving those cities."
Monet's iconic works from Normandy, which includes his home of Giverny, included paintings of water lilies, haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral and the Seine. The advent of photography freed Monet and other artists from realism, and they no longer felt obligated to accurately reflect color, light and scenery. Monet used short, choppy brushstrokes that make his painting appear blurry when viewed up close but clearer when the viewer stands at a distance. His painting "Impression: Sunrise" gave the movement its name.
Steel calls the day he hangs such great works "the best day of the exhibition." That's when all the paintings are in the gallery, the wall labels are ready and benches are brought in for visitors.
"The people of this region are going to not have seen anything like this exhibition," he said, delighted by the heavy turnout in San Francisco. "I always knew this was going to be a pretty special exhibition. But it's so nice when you're getting confirmation of that even before it comes to your house."
In San Francisco, Lynn Orr, curator of European art at the Fine Arts Museums, was feeling a bit of dismay.
"What a privilege it's been to have the Metropolitan's 'Garden of Sainte-Adresse' picture," she said. "It's one of a handful of the greatest pictures that Monet ever painted. To have that hanging here for three months, it's been wonderful."
"Monet in Normandy" will run at the North Carolina Museum of Art from Oct. 15 to Jan. 14, 2007, and at the Cleveland Museum of Art from Feb. 18 to May 20, 2007.
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On the Net:
http://www.ncartmuseum.org/monet/


Updated : 2021-05-12 05:29 GMT+08:00