Sunday, July 28, 2013

Visting Monet's Garden

Every year in the winter months there are a series of exhibitions which come under the collective title of Melbourne's Winter Masterpieces in conjunction with other galleries and museums. Last year, the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition was about Napoleon, and I shared my experience as part of the Paris in July blogging event which is hosted by Karen at Bookbath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea. This year, the NGV has been very accommodating in providing me with another French experience to post about as part of Paris in July, with the current exhibition being called Monet's Garden.

As I think back, my favourites of the pictures were probably Roses, which was Monet's last completed work, Taking a Walk Near Argentuil and Rouen Cathedral at the End of the Day. There were also a couple of series showing various scenes in different light that I really liked too. Some of the other flowery ones were absolutely luminous too but I can't specify which ones they were now. Doesn't help that there must have been twenty paintings that were called Waterlilies, so you have to know which period you are talking about in order to specify exactly which painting it was that you saw!

One of the things that I was struck by in the exhibition was how few of the paintings had people in them. There was a portrait of his wife and one of his kids, one of his friend Renoir, but other than that from memory there were only a couple where there was a group of people walking in the country and another with people walking on the beach. Maybe that is just the way that it worked out given that this exhibition was specifically focusing on the garden but it was something that was noticeable as we walked around.

I went to see the exhibition with a group of friends and we went to the premium viewing session early on a Saturday morning. At first I wasn't thrilled at the thought of paying extra to see the exhibit but I have to say I loved it, and it was totally worth the extra money not to have to share the space with hundreds of other people crowding forward to look at the paintings and the descriptions. Because there were so few people in the galleries you were able to look at each painting up close and see the brush strokes and colours but there was also more than enough space to step right back and see the paintings as a whole, as they were meant to be seen and perceived. It also meant that we had time to walk through the rooms several times.

There were some paintings that, even with all the space and time we had, I just didn't really get but there were also lots that were beautiful. It was interesting to see the paintings that were done away from the garden at Giverny because they are what is so often associated with Monet - the paintings of London in the fog, of houses in Norway (not my favourites but still interesting) and others.

Having said that, it is clear that the garden was Monet's inspiration particularly in later life. The exhibition experience was rounded out with a film that was especially commissioned which showed life at Giverny over the course of a day. It was shown on a semi circular screen and showed some of the famous outlooks (the Japanese bridge and the ponds with the water lilies) as well as the interior of the house from sunrise to sunset and it was a lovely way to spend a few minutes. I am sure it is not the same as being there but it is the closest I am going to get for several years yet! I was glad to be sitting right at the back of the room though. If you were sitting in the heart of the semi circle you could have ended up feeling a little giddy I think.

As usual in these big exhibitions there are no photos allowed, but there was one place where you could take a photo of yourself in the garden outside Monet's house, so here I am picking a tulip from the garden, because I do really like tulips!

I really enjoy going to visit the NGV and other museums and galleries in the city, but it is not something that I do often. I tend to go to the big exhibitions and then spend time wandering around the other galleries rather than just going in with the intention of just wandering (if that makes sense). I thought I would just briefly talk about some of the other things that I found interesting during my visit to NGV that day.

After viewing the exhibition, one of the other ladies and I headed upstairs and indulged in a little morning tea. We could have stayed downstairs in the main cafeteria space which had all been decked out in a French provincial kitchen theme but it was nice to be able to sit and chat.

When I first saw this piece as I walked in, I was a bit perplexed by it. At first glance, and from a distance, it looked a bit like a giant Christmas decoration so I did wonder if they were doing a Christmas in July theme, which would have been a bit kitschy for an art gallery. It turns out that it is actually a deer that has been stuffed and then covered with spheres of all different sizes. It was certainly eye catching.

My favourite thing in my visit to the gallery this time was this installation by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot who "is a French artist and composer who creates large-scale acoustic installations and environments which draw upon forces of nature and the rhythms of everyday life to produce new forms of art and music." (description from the website). I was not the only person who sat for minutes at a time watching the porcelain bowls floating around the pool and creating resonating sounds as they bumped into the other bowls. At one stage there were a group of people watching as one bowl got stuck in a dead spot and cheered when it finally got moving into the current again. This whole piece was very soothing, and I could easily have watched it for much longer than I actually did but all up I probably spent more than half an hour just sitting and watching.

When I knew that I was going to the gallery, there was one painting that I knew that I wanted to make sure that I saw and that was Picasso's Weeping Woman. A few months ago we read a book for book club called Stealing Picasso by Anson Cameron which was a satirical take on the theft of this piece from the gallery in the 1980s. I didn't like the book much, but I was determined to go and see the piece. I have no idea why I took this photo on an angle. Picasso did a good enough job of seeing the world differently without me adding my own twist.

Finally, one of the fascinating displays that I stumbled onto by chance was a display of Jacobite glassware called Kings Over the Water. Authors like Diana Gabaldon and Susanna Kearsley have written fantastic books which tell aspects of the Jacobite supporters story - the dangers they faced, the exiles to various other countries and more so I found myself thinking of those stories as I wandered along the displays.  Some of the glassware displayed had hidden symbols to show where the owners political sympathies lied  but many of them were overtly displaying this through the engravings or inclusions. For example, there were a couple of glasses where there was a small coin that had been included in the stem which showed the 'true king'. For much better photos click through to the NGV website.

Currently reading

Persuasion by Jane Austen (audiobook), The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick and India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K Carr

Up next

The Good Prince by Bill Willingham, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin


  1. I'm going to Melbourne next weekend to see this exhibition, Marg, so I'm pleased it looks so good. I do love the NGV -- always something new to catch the eye. My favourite object is the 'Aesthetic teapot' - completely bizarre:

    1. Oh, that is bizarre!

      I hope you enjoy the exhibition too Vicki.

  2. I remember going to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as a child and they had only one Monet painting in the whole museum, but I would stare at it for the longest time. It was one of the 'London in the Fog' paintings he did, and there was something about the mix of colors and light that I loved. It's funny because I've seen countless other Monet paintings since then, but that's the one that has stayed with me.

    Sounds like you had a fun visit--I love the Jacobite glassware, too!

    1. Have you visited Giverny Beth?

    2. No, but I've been to the Musée d'Orsay several times, which has a big Monet collection. There are so many places in France that I'd like to visit and haven't had the chance to yet.

  3. I think I would have love that floating bowl exhibit. And I didn't know anything at all about the Jacobite glassware. The Outlander lover in me needs to check out the website.

    1. It was the first I knew of it too Beth so I found it fascinating. There were a couple of examples of glassware called the Amen glasses which are particularly rare.

  4. What a great visit you had. I always like going to the NGV too. I got to see Napoleon, I hope that I will get there to see Monet's Garden, but am not sure how that will happen at this stage. I've been to Giverney 15 years ago, it was a bit early in the season so the garden wasn't at it's best yet, but it was amazing to stand on the bridge. I didn't get the chance to get back there this year. Someday I will, with the garden at it's peak. That floating installation sounds great too, would love to see that too.

    1. I guess you will just have to console yourself with your recent visit to Paris instead of coming to Melbourne too!



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