Monet: The Early Years

Feb 23, 2017

Legion of Honor \ February 25–May 29, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to present Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor. This will be the first major US exhibition devoted to the initial phase of Claude Monet’s (French, 1840–1926) career. Through more than fifty paintings, the exhibition demonstrates the radical invention that marked the artist’s development during the formative years of 1858 to 1872. In this period the young painter developed his unique visual language and technique, creating striking works that manifested his interest in painting textures and the interplay of light upon surfaces.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to see Monet’s mastery—before Impressionism,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Monet is ubiquitous—people tend to think there is nothing more to know about him. This exhibition is revelatory.”

With a selection of works gathered from some of the most important international collections—the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other public and private collections worldwide—Monet: The Early Years authoritatively demonstrates the artist’s early command of many genres, not only the landscapes for which he has become so renowned but also still lifes, portraits and genre scenes.

“The paintings from Monet’s early career are profoundly daring and surprising,” comments Esther Bell, Curator in Charge of European Paintings at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. “You see his mastery of light and texture everywhere—in his depictions of large and small moments, with friends and loved ones, in the solitude of forests and fields and in the quiet scenes of everyday life. Every stroke commands our attention.”

This exhibition follows the Legion of Honor’s strong history of showing highly important moments in French Impressionism. By following Monet before Impressionism, visitors can see the emergence of his style and how he helped shape the movement. Monet: The Early Years will be on view at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from February 25 through May 29, 2017. This is the first of two exhibitions curated by George Shackelford, Deputy Director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas to examine the full artistic career of Claude Monet. The companion exhibition, Monet: The Late Years, will come to San Francisco in 2019.

In Detail
The presentation opens with the first painting Monet exhibited in public, View Near Rouelles (1858, Marunuma Art Park, Asaka, Japan). Created when the artist was just 18 years old, this work demonstrates his early mastery of oil painting through his brilliant handling of color and also prefigures his lifelong affinity for the subject of landscapes. From 1864 to 1868, he was simultaneously interested in capturing the geographies of his artistic life, from the cool, gray coast of Normandy to the warm, lush forest of Fontainebleau. The Pointe de La Hève at Low Tide (1865, Kimbell Art Museum), which Monet exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1865 to critical acclaim, exemplifies his talent for conveying the dramatic atmosphere of a Normandy beach. One of his finest treatments of the interior of the forest is An Oak at Bas-Bréau (The Bodmer) (1865, Private collection), his detailed study of a tree named for the Swiss painter Karl Bodmer. This work is being shown publicly for only the second time in this exhibition.

During this period, Monet also aspired to create large-scale figure paintings intended for Salon exhibitions. In 1865, he began an ambitious plein-air composition, Luncheon on the Grass (1865–1866, Musée d’Orsay), in response to a painting of the same title by Édouard Manet (which was lambasted by critics when it was exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863). Monet’s composition featured his future wife Camille Doncieux and friends Gustave Courbet, Frédéric Bazille and others having a picnic in the forest. Daunted by its large size, Monet abandoned the painting, which he eventually presented as collateral to a landlord when his rent was late. By the time Monet could afford to get the painting back, the canvas had become moldy. Monet cut the canvas into several pieces, two of which survive and are presented in this exhibition.

In contrast to the social conviviality represented in Luncheon on the Grass, the artist’s lesser-known still-life paintings from the same period, including Still Life with Melon (1872, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon), are focused on reproducing objects in sensual and meticulous detail. This emphasis is also reflected in Red Mullets (1869, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts), in which two stark and somber fish lay in opposing directions on a soft white cloth.

Monet was also proficient in creating portraits and genre scenes, many of which included members of his budding family. On view in the exhibition are two tender, affectionate paintings of his eldest son—Jean Monet Sleeping (1867–1868, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen) and The Cradle–Camille with the Artist’s Son Jean (1867, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), the latter also depicting Doncieux, by then his wife, who is set against a white curtain as she gazes over the infant.

The exhibition demonstrates Monet’s increasing mastery of painting the effects of light in multiple weather conditions. Such skills are notable in the two of eight works on loan from the Musée d’Orsay that show winter scenes, A Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur (1865) and The Magpie (1869), which shows with chilling stillness a single bird clinging to a fence in a snow-blanketed landscape.

Fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, Monet left France in 1871. He first moved to London, where he painted images of vast public parks (Hyde Park, 1871, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence). Upon his return to France in 1872, Monet moved to Argenteuil, a town about 12 miles downriver from Paris, along the Seine, where he produced extraordinary views of the sky and water. A group of paintings that depict the towpath along the river capture the appearance of the scene at different times of the day, prefiguring his serial experiments two decades later, when he would paint a single subject under a wide array of atmospheric conditions. In addition, Regatta at Argenteuil (1872, Musée d’Orsay) displays the looser handling of paint that the artist would further develop in the successive phases of his career. Monet: The Early Years tracks the young artist to the end of 1872, the moment his mature style began to emerge. \ @legionofhonor \ #EarlyMonet

Related Programming
On Saturday, February 25, the Monet: The Early Years Opening-Day Celebration takes place from noon—4 pm. The event includes live music, art making, and a guest lecture, ‘The Invention of Monet,’ by George Shackelford, Deputy Director of the the Kimbell Art Museum at 2 pm.

Visiting \ Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco. Open 9:30 a.m.– 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays. Open select holidays; closed most Mondays.

For adults, tickets start at $35 and include general admission; discounts are available for seniors, students, and youths. Members and children 5 and under are free. Tickets are timed. Prices subject to change, more information can be found at

An audio guide will be available for purchase to visitors. More info here.

Digital Stories
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are proud to announce: Digital Stories – free digital exhibition guides to accompany all major exhibitions. Digital Stories will give audiences the opportunity to learn more about an artist, art movement or time period before coming to see an exhibition. Readers will be given a deeper understanding of the presented content and also the skills to observe critically and generate personal connections. The first Digital Story accompanies, Monet: The Early Years, and can be accessed here.

Exhibition Catalogue
This elegant volume is the first to be devoted to the young genius of Claude Monet (1840-1926). Bringing together the greatest paintings from his early career - including his first Salon-exhibited work, the Kimbell Art Museum’s La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide; Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) and The Magpie from the Musee d’Orsay; and The Green Wave and La Grenouillère from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - it features essays by distinguished scholars, focusing on the evolution of Monet’s own distinctive mode of painting. Through the 1860s, the young painter absorbed and transformed a variety of influences, from the lessons of the Barbizon school and his mentor Boudin to the challenges posed by his friends Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Sisley. Artistic innovation and personal ambition shaped the work of the celebrated impressionist painter from the very start of his long and illustrious career. Hardcover, 320 pages. Purchase here.

Exhibition Pictorial
Monet: The Early Years—A Pictorial celebrates the mastery of Claude Monet as a young man, when he struggled to make a living as a painter while creating the innovations that would make him one of the most important artists of his time. Thirty paintings demonstrate Monet’s groundbreaking use of color, brushstroke, and composition that herald an artistic revolution in the making. Softcover, 40 pages. Purchase here.

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is organized by the Kimbell Art Museum in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Presenting Sponsors: Bank of the West, William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn, the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, Diane B. Wilsey. Conservator’s Circle: Mrs. Carole McNeil. Benefactor’s Circle: Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund , Lucinda B. Watson. Patron’s Circle: George and Marie Hecksher, Mrs. Anne G. McWilliams, and David A. Wollenberg. Additional support is provided by Sonja and Bill Davidow, Mrs. George Hopper Fitch, Carol Nelson and Kathryn Urban, the Michael M. Peacock Foundation, Marianne H. Peterson, and Andrea and Mary Barbara Schultz.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and, like that structure, was modeled after the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Media Contacts
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