Monet sister Vetheuil paintings reunited in the US for first time

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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)
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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
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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.


Ahmed Amer looks to build on success of debut feature ‘Kiss Me Not’

A still from 'Kiss Me Not'. (Image Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Ahmed Amer looks to build on success of debut feature ‘Kiss Me Not’

  • Cairo-born writer-director Ahmed Amer is a creative powerhouse
  • Ahmed Amer explains how he went from big business to the silver screen

MALMO: Cairo-born writer-director Ahmed Amer is a creative powerhouse. His triumphant debut feature “Kiss Me Not” is still showing to cinema audiences while he perfects two new scripts and dreams up fresh ideas for his next turn behind the camera.

Amer, 42, is affable, engaging company, speaking with Arab News on the sidelines of the Malmo Arab Film Festival where “Kiss Me Not” is among the headline features. Modest and sincere, the former investment banker’s quiet charisma is evident as he explains how he went from big business to the silver screen.

“The only reason I didn’t go into movies from the beginning is because I come from a very traditional, bourgeois Egyptian family, and the idea of working in film or theater was not an option professionally,” Amer said of his childhood in the plush Cairo suburb of Dokki where his father worked in engineering and real estate. “I always had the passion. I had some kids’ stories published when I was a child, but I never thought of it as a profession. It was something I did for love.”

Ahmed Amer. (Image Supplied)


Yet that love proved impossible to ignore as he said goodbye to a steady paycheck from Citi bank, where he worked for six years after graduating from university in engineering, to move to New York aged 26.

“My family were very accepting, because they thought I would just try for a year and it was something I needed to get out of my system,” said Amer. “I decided that if I didn’t try to become a filmmaker now, it would never happen. I was a bit scared, because I was going into the unknown.”

He arrived in the United States in 2003, where he studied filmmaking and scriptwriting as well as working as an assistant editor. He also acted in several films.

“I was lucky because, at that time in New York, there were a lot of TV shows and documentaries about the Arab world and they always wanted someone who spoke Arabic, which was my key through the door,” said Amer.

He wrote and directed his 2005 short “A Good Family,” which explored the difficulties an immigrant Arab family faces in adapting to a more liberal society. Other notable work followed, including co-organizing the Arab American Comedy Festival. He remained Stateside until 2011, when he returned home.

“I realized that even though I’d lived in New York for a long time and had a very good understanding of the society, Arabic is my mother tongue and I’d always be the immigrant there,” said Amer. “I didn’t want to become a director that only makes films about Arabs living somewhere else. I wanted to explore other stories and other worlds, so I started writing films. Most of my stories are based in Egypt or are about Egyptian characters, because that’s where I was born. That’s why I went back.”

Fast-forward to today and he’s now an established writer and director, with “Kiss Me Not” exploring the growing prohibition of kissing in Egyptian film. While once a mainstay of commercial cinema, on-screen kissing has become increasingly rare, reflecting the steadily more conservative sensibilities of Egyptian society.

“The kiss is not just a kiss. It represents the idea of what’s allowed and what’s taboo,” said Amer. “What wasn’t taboo before is now. I tried to explore this in a funny, even over-the-top way.”

The plots centers around young starlet Fakr (Yasmine Raeis), who abruptly refuses to kiss on-screen, wrecking the climactic scene of fledgling director Tamer’s (Mohamed Mahran) debut movie.

A still from 'Kiss Me Not'. (Image Supplied)

Tamer’s forlorn efforts to persuade his newly devout star to go through with the kiss are recorded by a fellow film-school student who’s shooting his own documentary about the production. This film-within-a-film structure enabled Amer to include archive footage of kissing scenes from revered Egyptian films of old.

“A lot of actors personally have no issue (with kissing on screen), but they are worried about losing the conservative audience,” said Amer. “It’s sad to see filmmakers and actors acting as censors. I personally believe that people who work in art have to push the boundaries little-by-little.”

Amer also co-wrote the acclaimed “Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim,” which premiered at the 2016 Dubai Film Festival and won the best actor award. Ali, in mourning for his late girlfriend, believes she has been reincarnated as a goat, while his musician friend Ibrahim keeps hearing voices. Ostracized from society, a traditional healer tells them they are cursed and to undo the black magic they must take three stones and throw them in different parts of Egypt.

“I was trying to show people that you can be different and don’t have to be like everyone else. You might actually be a better person. It’s a very allegorical story about Egyptian culture,” said Amer. “The two guys and the goat go on a roadtrip to be healed from their sickness, but during the journey they realize they’re fine. It’s about a friendship that becomes stronger during the trip and they realize the answer to their problems is to be a good friend and accept themselves.”

Amer wrote “Ali” with long-time collaborator Ibrahim El-Batout. The pair also co-wrote 2012’s “Winter of Discontent,” which El-Batout directed and which explores the uncertainty and fear that engulfed Egypt in the final days of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Amer is now focusing on his scriptwriting. A comedy he wrote should begin filming before the end of 2018. He is also collaborating with “Ali” director Sherif El Bendary on a new movie, “Spray.”
“’Ali’ was about different people accepting each other,” Amer said. “This movie has the same kind of idea of but in a completely different story and context.”

After that, he will start working on his second film as a director. “I have an idea (for it), but it’s not crystallized in my mind yet,” he said.

So, which does he prefer: screenwriting or directing?

“I enjoy both,” he explained. “Writing is amazing because I’ll be stuck in part of the story where I don’t know how I’m going to resolve it. Then, when you finally get it, it’s an incredible feeling that makes it all worthwhile. As a director, I love working with actors.”