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New show explores "secret" Monet, as draughtsman

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Mention Claude Monet and most people conjure up images of Impressionist paintings bursting with color and hazy forms, of haystacks, views of Rouen Cathedral or the River Thames.

Claude Monet's "The Cliffs at Etretat", circa 1885. A new exhibition at London's Royal Academy unveiled on Tuesday claims to present a "groundbreaking" new view of the artist as draughtsman, a little known aspect of his work which Monet himself was keen to hide from the public eye. REUTERS/Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, 1955.528/Photo © 2007 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown/Handout

But a new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy unveiled on Tuesday claims to present a “groundbreaking” new view of the artist as draughtsman, a little known aspect of his work which Monet himself was keen to hide from the public eye.

“The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings” highlights works on paper largely unknown to the general public, from charcoal caricatures and landscape vignettes as a budding artist to rich pastels and drawings of paintings made for publicity purposes.

“This is an artist we don’t really know as a draughtsman,” said James Ganz, a co-curator of the show.

Surrounded by some of Monet’s earliest drawings made when he lived in Le Havre, northern France, he told reporters: “This young person was absolutely obsessed with drawing.”

MaryAnne Stevens, senior curator at the academy, added: “You may think everything has been done on Monet in particular and Impressionism in general, but in this particular instance what we present is an exhibition that is revelatory and ravishing.”

Richard Kendall, another curator on the show, said some of Monet’s finest works were little known drawings and pastels.

He singled out a series of three pastels of a changing sky, which moves from a dark and stormy scene to one where the sun is breaking through broken cloud.

“They are like frames for a movie,” he said. “That was a really radical thing to do for a 25-year-old.”

And when Monet arrived in London in 1901, his painting materials had not arrived and he produced more than 20 pastels of views along the Thames which provided clues as to how he would go about painting the same scenes.

MONET HID DRAWINGS’ ROLE

One reason why Monet’s drawings, which he made throughout his career, are so little known is that he spent much of his life denying the role they played in his work.

He wanted his paintings to be seen as something more impulsive and spontaneous than they often really were.

Monet carried small sketchbooks with him throughout his life, making notes and jotting scenes as he went, and left eight folios of sketches containing 400 drawings, all reproduced digitally for the exhibition.

Aware of the role the media could play in his success as an artist, Monet was persuaded to make black-and-white drawings of paintings that could be reproduced in newspapers and journals.

One example was “View of Rouen,” a drawing made in 1883 of a painting completed 11 years earlier. Monet only made the drawing because a particularly influential journalist decided that he liked the original and wanted to print the image.

The artist also joined forces with lithographer William Thornley to market a limited edition lithographic portfolio based on his paintings.

Early reviews of the show, which runs from March 17 to June 10, have been glowing.

“Supplemented with related paintings and accompanied by a ground-breaking catalog, the result transforms our understanding of how Monet worked,” wrote Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph.

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