'I work constantly and lovingly on my garden. What I need most are flowers, always, always. My heart is always in Giverny.'
— Claude Monet
Claude Monet and the Impressionists opened a new chapter in art history, leading the way for the continuous expansion of imagination by landscapes artists in the following 150 years and beyond in their attempts to portray transcendental worlds beyond reality.
Kwai Fung Hin is very proud to present in this exhibition a masterpiece of Monet created during his early years at Giverny – Pivoines (1887), alongside a selection of outstanding works of modernist Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Lalan, and contemporary artists David Hockney, Shara Hughes, Myonghi Kang and Ziad Dalloul, offering a rare opportunity of comparative study of them, unveiling an interesting, though not the only, cross-section of Monet's legacy.
We invite you to join us on this journey of exploration from Monet to the present day, which embraces the vibrant, elusive worlds of life to be found within these pictorial spaces, dissolving the barriers between past and present, East and West, and our outer and inner worlds.
Monet's landscapes and the dawn of modernity
This exhibition centres around the legacy of Monet, whose radical means of conveying nature liberated Western landscape painting from academic and symbolic conventions, as well as its centuries-old position as a neglected genre. The sensational unveiling of Monet's Impression: Sunrise in 1874 in Paris, with its depiction of everyday scenes, dramatic shift of perspective, emphasis on colour, movement and surface, and loose, energetic brushstrokes, captured the modern experience of reality. Bright colors are inter-activating each other, there is no more contours, no more shapes, no more distinct objects, but a cloud of colored flecks providing an illusion of things. The landscape on the canvas is covered by a mist-like curtain, it is filtered and reduced to its very essence, which revolutionary approach turned out to be a strikingly effective way of representing the transient appearance of a natural scene.
Monet contradicted all the universally accepted ideas about reality held by the middle-class in the 19th century. Apprehensive of his individualism and this controversial new form of painterly realism, critics derided his radical vision as 'unfinished', according to art critic Louis Leroy, it was merely a sketch or 'impression'. Monet and his comrades happily pocketed the attack as inspiration for naming the movement 'Impressionism'. Surprisingly and not, this reframing of landscape painting as the genre of artistic experimentation and innovation eventually took root in the imagination of modern and contemporary artists from diverse cultures.
Landscapes of the mind
Monet's emphasis on gesture and the very act of painting itself served as a model for the form of subjective, expressive abstraction pursued by the masters of Chinese modernism - including Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Lalan - who set sail for Paris inspired by the Impressionists. For many centuries in the East, the highest form of visual expression had been 'mountain-water' brush and ink painting (山水畫), which conveyed the inner world of the artist : his knowledge, his beliefs and his cultural tastes, all indicative of his accomplishments of learning and cultivation of nobility. In the works of these Chinese modernists, the collision of East-West artistic and cultural traditions saw the birth of avant-garde visions of boundless inner worlds that infused Western oil techniques with Song Dynasty literati culture, ushering in a new chapter in modern Chinese art history.
Worlds beyond reality
Far from being a distant relation of contemporary art, Monet's vision endures to the present day, with the landscape genre becoming the driver of newer and more diverse forms of expression. Challenges to the conceptual and metaphysical boundaries of traditional landscape painting sit alongside aesthetic experiments with spontaneous and ever-shifting forms, unexpected media and explosive use of colour, endowing the genre with ever-greater emotional and intellectual potential. This exhibition showcases a representative, though far from exhaustive, list of contemporary artists: David Hockney, Shara Hughes, Myonghi Kang and Ziad Dalloul as examples.
Looking back, perhaps what make Monet a legend are his discoveries of the relationship between time and space, light and color, as well as the secrets of their interaction, the resulting shift in painting focus that had brought unprecedented visual, and even more importantly, demonstrating the limitlessness of possibilities in representation of the facade of our world, which do and will continue to inspire artists today and tomorrow.