Sometimes you need a moment of beauty in troubled times. But some say, “No way.” Or “So what?”

Waterloo Bridge IMG_2948

Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Denver Art Museum to view “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature.”  It is an all-enveloping exhibition, with more than 120 paintings, and it was interesting to watch the advancement of his work over many years.

Although I have never been totally in love with Impressionism, I understand its role in the evolution of painting, ushering work into a more modern age. Plus, so many of these paintings are stunning, displayed in an installation that offers different views of Monet’s subjects.

The photograph at the top of this blog is one of Monet’s Waterloo Bridge paintings, located in London. The painting is dated 1903, and is on loan from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. But what is really important is there are smokestacks in that painting (and in other paintings, too), and what looks like fog. I suppose the artist could have ignored those smokestacks, which by this time the Industrial Revolution was in full swing after bringing factories to the forefront almost 70 years before. Monet has noted that he loved the fog in London, but I blanch at that. Though the fog swirled through the city, I would assume it was not healthy.

For an art critic at The Denver Post, this exhibition just didn’t fly because it was not rooted in contemporary thinking. At the end of the review, the critic writes:

“… I think it begins by starting the whole exhibition process with this question: Why this artist and why now? And skipping the whole thing if there’s no good answer.

“Otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity for museum work at a crucial time in our own history. More than that, it’s a disservice to the artist on display. Does the artist speak to our times? If not, the work is terrific, but useless, fading, inconsequential. Monet gave the world a good bit of beauty; what else did he give us?”

So, he wants to have more from Monet. Would it satisfy this critic if the exhibition included a photographic survey of the places Monet painted (easy enough to find) and compare the places that exist today? Is this something for a museum to do? Or a study by National Geographic?  Or, as suggested, ditching the show? No.

So, today: We know that climate change is now beating up our environment, from glaciers melting to changing climate zones as the world becomes hotter.  Yes, we are in trouble, and with an administration that continues to roll back regulations put in place to make this country cleaner, it will be a big haul to fix.

This is not to diminish the issues we face – now. We experienced them in 1903, the year Monet painted that Waterloo Bridge. Of course, it was the aftermath of the Gilded Age, when the rich ate the poor. And here we are again.

There’s enough ugliness, hate, racism, poverty and misery to spread around the planet. But isn’t it OK to let something be beautiful, for one little moment? Yes.

Below are links to an art review in Westword, which focuses on the exhibition; to the review that appeared in The Denver Post, and to a story in Denverite that continues the concerns of the Post critic.

And below, there’s an image of Monet’s Water-lilies and Japanese Bridge, dating from 1899, loaned by the Princeton Art Museum, New Jersey. Sorry for the angled view, but I didn’t want to hog space right in front of it.

Water lily bridge IMG_2955


2 Replies to “Sometimes you need a moment of beauty in troubled times. But some say, “No way.” Or “So what?””

  1. Somehow getting lost in this discussion is that Monet and the other Impressionists were radical for their time. In fact the term “Impressionism” was a put down taken from Monet’s Impression Sunrise. Impressionism set the stage for abstraction, the primary movement of the 20th Century. And the fact that today it feels simply beautiful and comforting is in itself an interesting phenomenon.


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