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Monet’s 'Vase with Flowers' at Dulwich Picture Gallery

  • Monet's signature in the Dulwich Picture Gallery visitors book, 1870

    Monet's signature in the Dulwich Picture Gallery visitors book, 1870

Assistant Curator, Helen Hillyard, tells us more about the special guest you can find in our Collection until 13 January 2019.

Until January, Dulwich Picture Gallery is home to a very special guest: Claude Monet’s Vase with Flowers, 1881-2, on loan from the Courtauld Gallery. Monet first visited Dulwich Picture Gallery on Friday 25 November 1870, alongside fellow artists Julien de La Rochenoire and Alphonse Legros, recording his signature in the Gallery's visitor book. Monet had arrived in London only two months previously as a refugee, following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war and the siege of Paris.

Today, he makes a spiritual return to the Gallery, where his painting is displayed next to another vase of flowers, painted by the 18th century Dutch painter Jan van Huysum. Separated by over 150 years, both artists have opted for a similar choice of subject; however, their approach could not be more different.

Jan van Huysum appears to have painted his flowers in hyper-realistic style. Crafted with meticulous attention to detail, we can see the veins on the leaves, glass-like drops of water, and individual insects crawling over the petals. And yet, although Van Huysum’s painting appears lifelike, his image is a constructed fiction. In reality, the flowers he depicts do not bloom at the same time of year, as such; he would have painted each flower individually before constructing his final composition. Van Huysum’s luxurious paintings were highly-prized, and a work of this quality and detail might have taken over a year to complete.

Monet’s painting does not offer the same sense of lifelike realism, and yet, its effect seems much more immediate, spontaneous, and in many ways truthful. His arrangement of wild mallows appears to spill out of the vase, reaching beyond the edges of his canvas. Yet the apparent spontaneity of this work belies the fact that Monet kept it in his studio for forty years, returning to it repeatedly, and only finishing it in the final years of his life. Needless to say, by this time, the bloom he depicts would have long since withered and died.

Monet at Dulwich Picture Gallery runs until 13 January 2019

Images: Claude Monet, Vase of Flowers, 1881-82, Oil on canvas, The Courtauld Gallery, London. ©The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London; Jan van Huysum, on loan from a Private Collection.