How much can anyone be bothered to say, let alone bloody listen to, about Claude Monet any more? The impressionist master is one of the great names of art history, a revolutionary, a game-changer, yada, yada, yada. He’s the defining nineteenth-century French artist, a man who has had so much written about him and whose art we have seen so many times that most sane people must be pretty bored of him by now.
As a result, you’d be totally justified in feeling cynical at the thought of yet another major show of his art. Is the National Gallery cashing in on the Surrey OAP boner for impressionism? Err, yeah. But is this show any good? Damn it, yes.
Let’s get the bad bits out of the way: the curation’s a bit shonky, just confusingly clumped works needlessly lassoed together. Three rooms tagged ‘The Picturesque I-III’? Please. And not all the art is great. Monet painted a lot and some of it was bollocks. There are a couple of splotchy formless messes, some pink aberrations, and some very dodgy paintings of bridges here.
But then, as you walk through the show, it hits you… again: Monet really was a genius. His seascapes shimmer in whites and blues and greens against stuttering, bitty hillsides. Stark lines of buildings effervesce into banks of cloud or ghost away into mountains. His snow scene is a riot of white nothingness, his train stations belch smog, his flags flap into abstraction. Everything is infinitely reflected in water or swallowed whole by pollution.
And then, like someone throwing a fistful of ecstatically coloured dirt in your face, Monet’s late-ish paintings of Rouen, London and Venice show up. They are dark, brooding, suffocating. The close-ups of Rouen Cathedral are fuzzy, towering monochromes flipping from pink to grey and blue. Three visions of the Houses of Parliament are shockingly dark, unfocused storms of purple and grey and orange, the visions of Venice are a lilac heaven. It’s totally and completely breathtaking, and awe-inspiringly revolutionary and unique.
I’m not convinced architecture actually mattered much to Monet. Everything around him was just a tool for trapping, diffusing, emitting and reflecting light. Forget the theme, it’s just stunning painting.
And it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen these before, there isn’t enough time in life to get bored of looking at them. Just blend them up and inject them into my eyeballs, it’s the only thing that will satisfy me.