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The Art Monet Owned

A new exhibit looks inside the mind of this influential Impressionist through the lens of the works he collected

A painting of Claude Monet's wife and son by friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir that he owned (National Gallery of Art)
smithsonian.com

Claude Monet is one of the foremost Impressionist painters in history, but did you know the renowned French artist was also a voracious collector of art? A new exhibit in Paris reflects on the artist's personal collection of works from people who inspired him, and the painters he worked alongside, Farah Nayeri reports for the New York Times.

On view at the Musée Marmottan Monet from September 14 until January 14, "Monet Collectionneur" ("Monet the Collector") displays 77 works purchased by Monet over the course of his lifetime.

The collection provides a window into the deeply private artist's tastes and influences. Two Pierre-Auguste Renoir works on view at "Monet Collectionneur" show Monet's first wife, Camille, lounging on a couch and laying in vibrant green grass with their son, writes Jackie Wullschlager, chief art critic for the Financial Times. Monet owned 14 works by his friend Renoir, a man whose works depicting cherubic women and vibrant group scenes contrasted sharply with Monet's own predilection for depopulated still lifes.

Other works in the exhibit show off the range of influences Monet's style drew on, from colorful ukiyo-e prints by the Japanese artists Andō Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusaiand to starkly lit landscapes by early 19th-century painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, whom Monet saw as "the only master" among Western artists, according to Wullschlager.

Nayeri at the Times reports that putting together the exhibit required a significant amount of detective work for the curators. Monet's paintings were scattered after his death by his son, who donated some to the Musée Marmottan Monet while selling others. Later, the listings of Monet's collection made after his death in 1926 were destroyed in the wreckage of World War II. Nevertheless, the museum's team of researchers managed to track down 120 works of art that could be confirmed as belonging to Monet himself.

Monet enjoyed a close relationship with other pioneering Impressionist artists, and his collection exemplifies this. Looking through the exhibition, one can see how as Monet and his contemporaries lived and worked together in Paris, developing a new genre of art, the artists practiced their craft by using what was around them, painting scenes of their lives in the soft, oil brush strokes that defined a movement.

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