Clark Art Institute Exhibition Reveals Influence of Claude Monet on Ellsworth Kelly

  • WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts
  • /
  • October 25, 2014

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Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926), The Path under the Rose Arches, c. 1920–22. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 35 in. (92 x 89 cm). Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, 5104

On November 23, the Clark Art Institute opens Monet | Kelly, the first exhibition to consider the influence of Impressionist painter Claude Monet on the works of leading contemporary American artist Ellsworth Kelly. The works in the exhibition were selected by Kelly and include two paintings and eighteen unpublished drawings by the artist, together with nine paintings by Monet from his Belle-Île series and of his garden in Giverny. The exhibition examines how both Monet’s motifs and the sites that inspired his paintings have shaped Kelly’s approach to his work. Monet | Kelly will be on view through February 15, 2015. Monet | Kelly is organized by the Clark Art Institute. Monet | Kelly is made possible by the generous contribution of Denise Littlefield Sobel. Additional support is provided by Agnes Gund, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Emily Rauh Pulitzer


In reference to a 1952 trip he took to see Monet’s home in the French village of Giverny, Kelly once wrote: “Monet’s last paintings had a great influence on me, and even though my work doesn’t look like his, I feel I want the spirit to be the same” (2001, Monet and Modernism, Prestel Publishing).

Monet | Kelly is the result of Ellsworth Kelly’s extraordinary vision. It has been a marvelous opportunity for the Clark to work with Mr. Kelly and the exhibition will give audiences the opportunity to see these works through his perspectives as both curator and artist,” said Clark Director Michael Conforti. “While many know Kelly for his reimagining of abstraction through bold color and graphic innovation, few are familiar with his direct engagement with Claude Monet’s work, first while he lived in postwar France, and then episodically over the decades that followed. This exhibition will shed new light on Monet’s continuing influence on Kelly.”

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923), Tableau Vert, 1952. Oil on wood, 29 1/4 x 39 1/4 in. (74.3 x 99.7 cm). The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the artist, 2009.51 © Ellsworth Kelly

Early in his career Kelly spent six formative years (1948–1954) in France, where he discovered the late work of Monet. His 1952 visit to Monet’s house and studio in Giverny inspired Kelly to create his first monochrome work, Tableau Vert (1952, Art Institute of Chicago), which is included in this exhibition. Of this visit, Kelly wrote: “There must have been fifteen enormous paintings, twenty feet long. I was very impressed. I had never seen paintings like this: overall compositions of thickly applied oil paint representing water with lilies, with no skyline. I felt that these works were beautiful, impersonal statements.”

Kelly made several subsequent visits to France, sometimes returning to Belle-Île, an island off the southern coast of Brittany where he had spent the summer of 1949. Significantly, Monet had made his own four-month sojourn on Belle-Île in 1886. During these journeys, he explored the motifs of artists who preceded him, including Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Henri Matisse. This exhibition examines a group of Kelly’s unpublished drawings made during these trips that emphasize geographical place in his response to earlier artists.

In selecting the Monet works included in the exhibition, Kelly sought out two distinct groups of paintings—those made on Belle-Île in 1886, and those depicting the gardens at Giverny made between 1900–1920. While the sites coincide with Kelly’s travels in France, there is no explicit link within Monet’s output between these two groups of works. Considering them together, however, helps to draw out the developments that occurred in Monet’s painting between 1886 and the later period. 

Monet | Kelly marks the first public display of Kelly’s White Curve Relief over White (Belle-Île) of 2013, a painting which echoes his Belle-Île drawings. The exhibition also contains several important works by Monet on loan from public and private collections including Water Lilies, Study (1907, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), The Path under the Rose Arches (c. 1920–22, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), and The Japanese Bridge (c. 1923–25, Minneapolis Institute of Arts).

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue containing essays by noted scholars Yve-Alain Bois and Sarah Lees that explore the significance of Kelly’s 1952 visit to Monet’s studio to Kelly’s work, as well as the influence of the later Monet paintings on Kelly’s practice. 

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