by Richard Thomson. National Gallery Company, distributed by Yale University Press, May 2018. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9781857096170 (h/c), $40.00.
Reviewed November 2018
Sandra Rothenberg, Coordinator of Library Instruction/Reference Librarian, Henry Whittemore Library, Framingham State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Many books have been devoted to the study of the paintings of French Impressionist artist Claude Monet, but this is the first book devoted to the subject of architecture in his work. While Monet has been associated most frequently with his paintings of landscapes, seascapes, and gardens, he also painted a number of works where buildings play important roles. This volume accompanied an exhibition of the same title at the National Gallery of Art, London, and is written by Richard Thomson, a Professor of Art History at the University of Edinburgh and an expert in late nineteenth-century French art.
Thomson organizes his book through the ongoing themes he sees in relation to each type of architecture that Monet paints. Within these sections, he documents Monet’s creation of his paintings chronologically and by place. For example, in painting historic architecture in the subjects of Rouen Cathedral and other village churches, Monet focused on the picturesque quality of his subjects while at the same time exploring the pictorial structures of these buildings through the play of color and light on their surfaces through the passage of time. While Monet turned his attention to the subject of the modern city, his explorations of contemporary structures such as the Gare Saint-Lazare train station and the Houses of Parliament in London were striking portrayals of light, atmosphere, and modern industrial air pollution. Lastly, in Monet’s paintings of noted monuments of the city of Venice done later in his career, such as the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Doge’s Palace, as well as of old Venetian palazzi, the buildings take on a veiled and diaphanous quality by reflecting the aqueous effects of light and color bouncing off the water. This gives Venice a mysterious feeling reflecting the views of cultural critics during the fin de siècle of this city as a decadent and melancholy place.
While scholarly in tone and thoroughly researched, the writing in this book is clear, jargon-free, and accessible. Numerous high-quality color illustrations accompany the text, and the hardcover binding, while of good quality, does not have a book jacket. Although the book is not meant to be a general introduction to the artist, a detailed chronology of Monet’s life included at the back of the book situates him in terms of specific biographical and historical details. Notes and references reinforce the scholarly nature of this book, which is a strong addition to the literature on Monet, and thus an important acquisition for academic libraries that support programs in art history and museum libraries that support nineteenth-century art collections.