REVIEW: 'Monet in York' at the York Art Gallery


Grace Bannister (she/her) gains a greater insight into Claude Monet’s famous 'The Water-Lily Pond'

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Image by Grace Bannister

By Grace Bannister

There’s something so different about seeing your favourite painting in real life. Those who know me know that I love Monet; I have the tote, the posters, the postcards. So when I had the opportunity to see Claude Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond at the York Art Gallery, I obviously couldn’t resist.

Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond is on loan from the National Gallery as part of their ‘National Treasures’ initiative to celebrate their bicentennial anniversary. 12 regional galleries across the country have received an iconic ‘masterpiece’ to showcase until September.

Dr Beatrice Bertram, senior curator at the York Art Gallery, explained that the initiative aimed to make art more accessible: “not everyone can just hop on a train and go to London”. Now, at least half of the British population will be within an hour’s drive to one of the regional galleries.

Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond is at the heart of an exhibition which also contains paintings of those who inspired and have been inspired by Monet.

The Water-Lily Pond is showcased in the central room of the exhibition. The first room displays paintings from those who inspired or mentored Monet. As Dr Bertram explained, “Monet didn’t work in a vacuum: he came out of an artistic tradition of French painters in the open air”. These painters – including Camile Carot and Charles-Francois Daubiny – were pioneers, setting the trend for painting en plen air (painting outdoors). This first room provides an excellent context for understanding the environment Monet worked within.

On the theme of inspiration, the next room displays Japanese woodblock prints loaned from the British Museum, many of which Monet actually had in his collection. In fact, Monet owned over 200 Japanese woodblock prints which he displayed at his home, and studio, in Giverny. Information in the room tells visitors how these prints were in circulation during the 19th century, and how Monet was inspired not only by the motifs of bridges and water - the contrast between “natural environments and artificial structures” - but also creating the concept of paintings in a series. As Dr Bertram explained, Monet created  “the same motifs under different atmospheric conditions”. This room was particularly insightful for learning about Monet’s cosmopolitan inspirations. Some of the paintings included in this part of the exhibition included Katsushika Hokusai’s Fukagawa Mennenbashi shita, (which translates to the Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa), which was accompanied by a QR code on the corresponding information plaque. Dr Bertram explained that these provided links to a meditative guide including descriptions of the painting and accompanying breathing exercises. The theme of wellness and wellbeing are major aspects of this exhibition. The York Art Gallery is running wellbeing events in conjunction with this exhibition including yoga in the gardens and gallery upstairs, a wildflower meadow and outside frames to encourage visitors to get outdoors. For as Betram noted: “One of the main themes of the exhibition is the appreciation of nature, landscape, and gardens”.

The heart of the exhibition displays Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond at its centre, transporting you into his gardens with archival footage of Monet in Giverny. A digital table allows for visitors to zoom in and see his brushstrokes close-up. Paintings from Monet’s contemporaries join him in this room, including Boudin and ‘Manchester’s Monet’ William Dewhurst, and, while all the paintings displayed in this room are truly spectacular, you are drawn back to Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond. As described by Dr Bertram: “it’s a treasure, and truly beautiful”. It was so wonderful to experience Monet in this context: surrounded by his admirers both past and present.

But the exhibition doesn’t stop here! As Dr Betram explained, “We didn’t want the story to end in 1899, we wanted to bring it right up to the present day”. The next room displays 20th century paintings inspired by Monet, and while Dr Betram explained that this was “quite a challenge to do in a small room”, the museum capitalised on their own collection, looking specifically at landscapes with artistic movement. In addition to some paintings from the museum’s own collection, this room also features one of Roy Litchenstein’s Water Lilies series on loan from the Tate.

The final room presents a series painted by contemporary artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan who was present at the press preview I attended. The York Art Gallery commissioned a body of work from her due to her interest in nature, Japanese woodblock prints, and Monet. As Yearwood-Dan explained, “[Monet] is one of the earlier artists who’s a direct inspiration for me”, before telling us about her trip to his gardens in Giverny last summer. She described him as “a painter’s painter [...], a painter who loves other painters” – someone who looked to others for sources of inspiration, and who has provided the same inspiration for other artists.

Yearwood-Dan explained her series Una Sinfonia for us: the four main paintings each symbolise a different season. She also explained her multi-media approach, and the inclusion of ceramic pansy petals as not only “a nod to her ceramic practice”, but also “[her] own exploration into queer language and botany”. As a queer artist, Yearwood-Dan described her interest in botanical and natural language used to derogatively describe queer people. The ceramic pansy petals are not only a tie to Monet’s gardens, but also the term used to describe gay men in the early 20th century. Yearwood-Dan also described the print within her work as a “gentle bridge between [herself] and the viewer”.

In an interview with Yearwood-Dan, she told me that she’s loved painting flowers since she was a child. She explained her appreciation for their physical form, in addition to the timeless nature of landscape paintings. She described her painting Summer as “the one most relational to Monet’s palette and work”, and explained that while all four ‘season’ paintings have similar compositions, the colour palettes signify how we think about seasons. We also spoke about her multi-media approach: “the work is always quite layered, and mixed-media. The petals come first, the painting next, and the beads last” and “the ceramic petals are the first adornment […] placed sporadically, almost like a constellation. I then work around them”. Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s series is certainly the perfect way to finish the exhibition (before you enter the Monet-themed gift shop, of course) paying homage to motifs of nature, colour and the series concept.

While this exhibition is on until early September, I’d recommend visiting it soon, as I can say from personal experience that you’ll definitely want to go back.

Editor's Note: This exhibition at the York Art Gallery opened on 10 May and will run until 8 September. More information can be found here: