Monet sister Vetheuil paintings reunited in the US for first time

1 / 2
Ann Hoenigswald, senior conservator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, looks at “The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil” (1881) by Claude Monet, unframed, with a version held by the Norton Simon Museum in the background. (AFP)
2 / 2
Two paintings by Claude Monet, both painted in 1881 and titled “The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil” at the National Gallery of Art’s conservation laboratory in Washington. The one on the left is held by the National Gallery of Art, the one on the right by the Norton Simon Museum. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2018
0

Monet sister Vetheuil paintings reunited in the US for first time

WASHINGTON: For the first time since they were painted more than a century ago, two oil paintings of Claude Monet’s garden in Vetheuil have been reunited, in Washington.
Monet moved to this village in the Paris suburbs in 1878 with his sickened wife Camille and their two young children as they faced financial difficulties, along with the family of one-time patron Ernest Hoschede.
The period that ensued was one of the most prolific for the French Impressionist, who produced in just three years nearly 300 paintings, including “The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil” (1881).
Until August 8, the National Gallery of Art is presenting two of four known works of this lush summer scene with huge sunflowers, including its own, larger piece and another temporarily on loan from California’s Norton Simon Museum.
“It’s a turning point in terms of his career, his struggles, he’s turning more toward landscape, he’s becoming more interested in atmospheric effects,” National Gallery curator of 19th century French paintings Kimberly Jones said in an interview.
The Norton Simon’s version, believed to have served as a model for its companion, is more heavily worked in most areas.
“Before these two pictures were together, we always described the handling of this one as quite loose because we didn’t have another example, and we had always believed ours was a study for the larger picture,” said Norton Simon assistant curator Emily Talbot.
“All of the things that have been published about these two pictures we’re starting to question just by having them in the same space.”
Where Monet layered meridian green thickly on top of cobalt blue to give more interest to the sky in the Norton Simon’s picture, in the companion piece it’s defined instead by contrasts of thick and thin, and patches of exposed canvas ground.
The National Gallery’s senior conservator of paintings Ann Hoenigswald spent months removing a discolored natural resin varnish from the museum’s masterpiece that had flattened the work visually.
“The minute I got the varnish off, it just soared,” she said.
“What I find really exciting is the energy of the brushwork. You see the richness of the impasto and the speed at which he moves his brush across, and all the bristles of the brush, or a little lip of paint that just comes straggling there.”
It was not until almost 10 years later, in 1890, that Monet began painting formal series each comprised of dozens of works depicting a single subject — the Rouen Cathedral, London’s Houses of Parliament or water lilies — at different seasons or times of the day usually from the same vantage point.
The garden proto-series “could be the germ of an idea that’s just starting to develop in his mind,” said Jones.


British Museum reveals secrets of ancient Assyrian ruler

Updated 15 min 28 sec ago
0

British Museum reveals secrets of ancient Assyrian ruler

  • Exhibition on King Ashurbanipal reveals treasures from the 7th-century kingdom that stretched across northern Iraq and eastern Mediterranean.
  • Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer: “This exhibition will bring visitors face to face with a king whose reign shaped the history of the ancient world.”

LONDON: When Daesh ransacked Mosul Museum in February 2015, the world watched in horror as cultural treasures were pushed from plinths and relics from ancient civilizations smashed to the floor. 

Priceless pieces of Iraq’s history were lost, taking thousands of years of heritage with them while the militant group tried to wipe out pre-Islamic past and destroy all memory of the ancient civilizations Iraq is built on.

Rescuing the artefacts that escaped the group’s savagery and restoring Iraq’s archaeological ancestry has become part of the healing process as the country emerges from the trauma of Daesh rule and pieces its identity back together following a decade of turmoil. 

Programs to train Iraq’s archaeologists in emergency heritage management are being supported by overseas institutions, including the British Museum in London, where a new exhibition will delve into an era when Iraq was at the center of a great Assyrian empire. 

Priceless treasures from the archaeological archives of ancient Assyria will go on display at the museum in November for the first major exhibition on the kingdom’s last great ruler, King Ashurbanipal. 

Described as the most powerful person on earth during his reign in the 7th-century BC, Ashurbanipal ruled with an iron fist from his seat in Nineveh, now northern Iraq. 

He presided over a vast territory that stretched from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the summits of western Iraq and was known, according to the exhibition, as a “Warrior. Scholar. Empire-builder. King-slayer. Lion-hunter. Librarian.”

A map showing the extent of the Assyrian Empire (in pink). (Courtesy Paul Goodhead)

His feats on the battlefield, which included conquering Egypt and crushing the state of Elam, established his military might but the Assyrian king also cultivated an intellectual prestige, amassing the largest library in existence to showcase his scholarship.

For Ashurbanipal, the ruthless ruler, harnessing the power of learning to build his status as “King of the World, King of Assyria,” was equally important in cowing his enemies.

Among the notable pieces in his extraordinary collection, which predated the famous Library of Alexandria, was the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem from ancient Mesopotamia considered the earliest surviving work of great literature.

About 30,000 of these texts are in the hands of the British Museum, where they tell the story of life at Ashurbanipal’s famously extravagant court in ancient cuneiform script, hammered out on clay tablets. 

These are among the 200 rarely-seen objects due to be displayed at the museum, which has brought together pieces from across the world, from the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan to the Musée du Louvre in Paris to supplement its existing collection of artefacts from the glory days of ancient Assyria. 

Huge stone statues, delicately-carved reliefs, rare wall paintings and elaborate armory give a sense of the opulence of Ashurbanipal’s palace, which stood as a symbol of the vast wealth and influence he wielded, flanked by expansive gardens where an elaborate canal network reached 50 kilometers into the mountains.

Recent speculation has suggested that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — were in fact those at Nineveh.

Some of the the artefacts have been brought up from a decommissioned basement gallery at the British Museum, where few have had the opportunity to lay eyes on them for 20 years. 

Brought together for the first time, they capture the scale and splendor of the era before Ashurbanipal’s empire fell to the Babylonians and recalls an era when the influence of Assyrian monarchs reached across the world. 

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said: “This exhibition will bring visitors face to face with a king whose reign shaped the history of the ancient world.” 

Many of the items on display originate from archaeological sites in Iraq, including Nineveh and Nimrud, cities recently ravaged by Daesh when the group stormed the ancient sites armed with sledgehammers and drills. 

Gareth Brereton, exhibition curator, said: “As present-day Iraq looks to recover the history of damaged sites at Nineveh and Nimrud, this exhibition allows us to appreciate and relive the great achievements of an ancient world and celebrate its legacy.”