Sunday, April 10, 2022

Monet/Rothko

Love the idea of gallery hopping virtually and that is just what I was doing when I saw an announcement from the Hotel Drouot, the Paris auction house that hosts a number of auctioneers from different companies. Following up on one of its news stories I found the announcement of a Monet/Rothko exhibition at Le Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, the village 45 minutes from Paris, where Claude Monet made his home and garden which has become a must for all lovers of the Impressionists.

Monet/Rothko seemed like a most unusual pairing until I started looking into it it and found it so interesting to see them side by side. I am sorry that I won’t be viewing the exhibition in person which will close on July 3.

Claude Monet, Weeping Willow, 1920 -1922, d’Orsay Museum,
Paris and Mark Rothko, Light Red Over Black, 1957, Tate, London

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was born in Paris and lived in France his entire life except for two years (1860-61) in the French Army posted in Algeria. Mark Rothko was born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz in Latvia, which at the time was part of Russia. He came with his father to the United States at the age of 10. Rothko did travel, not only back to Latvia but to many European countries including France.

Looking into the influencers for Mark Rothko (1903-1970) I found artists from Michelangelo to Klee. It would be easier to list who did not influence him! He was strongly impacted by the paintings of Rembrandt and Fra Angelico. He preferred Monet to Cezanne and upon visiting a Turner exhibition was quoted as jokingly saying “This man Turner, he learned a lot from me”. He was clearly highly educated and interested in mythology, Christian iconography and philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, ca. 1668, The Hermitage; Rothko,
No. 210 No. 211, 1960, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

From the above paragraph you won’t be surprised that, in common with Monet, Rothko was not satisfied with what art school had to offer and changed his style often. Though Rothko has always been identified as an Abstract Expressionist he would deny it later in life. Monet, toward the end of his life, became more and more of a colorist and his images became less and less representational.

The comparisons between Monet and Rothko are not new and recent scholarship has shown that late Impressionism had a great influence on the Abstract Expressionists. Rothko was fascinated with the light in the Impressionists’ work but used it in a much more forceful manner.

Claude Monet, Tributary of the Seine near Giverny, 1897,
Paris, d’Orsay Museum Paris; Mark Rothko, Untitled,
1957, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


According to the commentary on the website of Normandie tourism “While Monet seeks to convey the immediacy of a feeling, Rothko attempts a more intense approach, where contemplation expands thought. Connecting Mark Rothko and Claude Monet means inviting the public to a visual and sensory experience. Visitor’s eyes, but also their perception of space and time, are subjected to an original artistic test…. Where the fleeting impression of the moment was Monet’s obsession, Rothko diluted space in the time of observation. Vertigo or contemplation, the exhibition will let the public find another perception of abstraction and modernity.”

This may be a bit too much art speak, but it is hard to make the comparisons in other ways since much is about one’s reaction to the art and is difficult to explain. I have written about Rothko several times and for me he has a mystical quality which fits in very well with the later work of Monet. What is so wonderful about art is that you don’t have to understand what the scholars and art historians say: it’s not science and your personal reaction is just as good as the next person’s.

Monet/Rothko is a small show, as exhibitions go, with just 6 works by each artist but it is an effective way to make a single point so viewers can contemplate the thesis and come to their own conclusions.