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Charles Delcourt

Curator Bruno Girveau on HK Heritage Museum's stunning Monet exhibition

“This exhibition is a rare opportunity to understand Monet’s evolution, from a style mainly inspired by past artists to a more personal and modern approach"

Written by
Hannah Hodson

Art and culture are being given a certain je ne sais quoi this month in line with Le French May. Hannah Hodson meets curator Bruno Girveau, a man waving the Tricolore high for traditional painting with his stunning Monet exhibition, The Spirit of Place

Effet de Printemps à Giverny

"It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly,” Claude Monet once said. This belief in deliberation is expertly showcased in The Spirit of Place at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the latest exhibition to pay homage to the much-admired French impressionist. Curated by Bruno Girveau, director of Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille in France, visitors are taken on Monet’s journey of observation and reflection, from one of his earliest pieces, painted in 1872, right through to a number of mature works created in the 1910s.

Featuring 17 paintings, pastels and tapestries, the sheer size of the collection is a feat in itself, and arguably one that only a curator of Girveau’s stature could compile. He comments: “Although it’s obviously not easy to bring 17 of Monet’s art works together within a year, French public museums house many impressionist paintings, and as the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais and I maintain good relations with most of our French colleagues, we managed to get wonderful loans.” In addition to 14 masterpieces flown in from France there are three that have come from an undisclosed private collection here in Hong Kong. 

Sidestepping the typical content of many a Monet exhibition – those that focus solely on his métier, the gardens of Giverny – Girveau brings us a number of the artists’ landscapes. “Monet could be considered one of the greatest landscape artists in the history of art. From the 1890s onwards, he stopped painting portraits and still life, choosing to focus on just landscapes,” states Girveau. “This exhibition is a rare opportunity to understand Monet’s evolution, moving from a style mainly inspired by past artists to a more personal and modern approach; landscape as an opening door to the pioneering art of the 20th century.”

Oil painting La Debacle à Vetheuil, avec vue sur Lavacourt

Visitors to The Spirit of Place are treated to a unique experience. Split into four different sections, the exhibition allows attendees to witness the distinct development of Monet’s painting techniques at different locales. “The four sections correspond to four important regions or moments in his life. Normandy and Brittany on the French west coast; Paris and its surroundings, where he lived and painted; London and Venice, two cities he discovered at the end of his life; and Giverny, the property where he spent the end of his life and which became his unique source of inspiration,” explains Girveau regarding the curatorial use of the exhibition space. Indeed, the importance of ‘place’ to Monet’s work is carried through to the multimedia aspects of the exhibition with a variety of audiovisual displays, which focus particularly on the water lilies of Giverny. “As most visitors will not have been lucky enough to see Monet’s property in Giverny, we thought it would be useful for them to both experience this unique spot and artistic creation according to Monet,” Girveau tell us animatedly. “Every visitor can experience what  it’s like to be an impressionist painter for a little while!” 

Although much of Monet’s exhibited work is impressionist, the style he is renowned for, his technique differs tremendously from decade to decade. Girveau elaborates: “While La Gare d’Argenteuil, dated 1872, could be considered one of the first ‘impressionist’ canvases by Monet, this early painting is still inspired by European predecessors like Constable, Turner or Boudin.” Turning his attention to later pieces, the curator comments further: “If one looks at Coin de l’étang à Giverny, painted in 1917, we realise that his technique has greatly changed over that period of time. His later works focus on the interactions between water, earth and sky, as influenced by light and changing seasons, and lead to modern art. This could summarise the point of the show.”

The Spirit of Place May 11-Jul 11, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Rd, Sha Tin, 2180 8188; 2016.

My Monet & Colour Me Monet

This two volume set, featuring a picture book and a colouring book, brings Monet’s world to life for the city’s youngest generation. The bilingual book has been created by the First Initiative Foundation, with the help of local Hong Kong artist Jeanie Leung, to encourage art appreciation and education. Featuring 20 images of Monet’s acclaimed artworks, children are taken on a journey of exploration with Leung’s cute character, Oowa. Snippets of information are dotted throughout the book, encouraging reading as well as learning. Once inspired by the water lillies and gardens of Giverny, little ones are encouraged to recreate, or indeed add their own spin, to the art in the colouring book. Young visitors to The Spirit of Place are a copy, and the book is on sale throughout Hong Kong. $80 (soft cover), $180 (hard cover).

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