The appeal is irresistible: the landscape, a vibrant medley of jonquil, tulip and forget-me-not, daisy, geranium and azalea; the air, replete with the heady scent of climbing roses, clematis and peony. For 43 years, renowned impressionist painter Claude Monet tended the gardens at his home in the French village of Giverny, painstakingly capturing their magnificence in such renowned masterpieces as “Water Lilies,” “The Japanese Bridge” and “The Path Under the Rose Arches.”
But Monet wasn’t the only artist inspired by the beauty surrounding him. For more than 120 years, Giverny has been a haven for those wanting to follow in his footsteps, eager to record their own impressions of the famous vistas.
From October 12 through January 20, the Columbus Museum of Art explores what this plot of land means to the art world. “In Monet’s Garden: The Lure of Giverny” features works by American Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists and contemporary artists, all captivated by the natural scenery Monet created between 1883 and his death in 1926.
Although a focal point of the exhibit is “Weeping Willow” –– signed by Monet on Armistice Day 1918 and filled with the bold abstract brush strokes that mark his later works –– Ohio artists are also showcased.
Because of the wealth that resulted from the economic boom following the Civil War, “Ohio had a very active art environment during the late 1800s,” explains Melissa Wolfe, the museum’s associate curator of American Art.
Many budding artists, says Wolfe, would make the pilgrimage to Europe in search of a muse.
Theodore Butler, Theodore Wendel and Karl Anderson were among the Ohioans traveling to Giverny in the latter half of the 19th century, who are represented in the Columbus Museum of Art show.
Although their work mirrors the style of Monet, says Wolfe, each found a different palette, creating canvases containing vivid colors and flat brush strokes, styled after the burgeoning neo-Impressionist movement.
“Rather than capturing a moment in time, the objective of these later artists was to evoke an emotional, almost spiritual, response in the viewer,” she explains.
The show also includes works done in mediums inconceivable in Monet’s day.
Mary Lucier’s fascination with light led her to Giverny in 1982. The Bucyrus native, now a New York City-based video artist, infuses her work with images of the sun –– specifically, the dazzling results gleaned by pointing her camera directly into it.
“I wasn’t interested in Monet as a painter,” she admits. “What I was interested in was [his] claim that he painted outdoors facing the sun. And I wanted to see what that would do.”
Lucier returned with an appreciation of the artist’s later works (“wild with color and energy”) and a pathway toward a personal journey that paid homage to her uncle, who was stationed in Paris during World War II, and his French wife. Her video, “Ohio to Giverny: Memory of Light,” honors her hometown and serves a testament to Monet’s enduring legacy.
“Whether it’s a predetermined place like Giverny or the rural American countryside,” says Lucier, “these settings are the connective tissue that binds us together.”