Visited the National Gallery of Art’s exhibit on artists of Fontainebleau today and saw the Met’s famous, early Monet The Bodmer Oak again with, of course, numerous other paintings and drawings by well-known and not so well-known artists and photographers. I look at exhibits like this one so differently now after thirty years of painting. When I was young, exhibits like this were the keys to the universe. When I was young, I didn’t know how to do anything, so I would stare at paintings for long intervals hoping somehow to memorize them almost brushstroke by brushstoke.
Now, I can look at paintings in a glance and understand rather a lot of how they were made. The best paintings, however, still amaze. What I find most notable about Claude Monet, especially in an exhibit like this where he is placed along side his regular contemporaries, is that the intelligence that lifts his works above the others stands out so clearly. One could compare him with artists like Narcisse Diaz de la Peña or Robert-Léopold Leprince and see quite clearly how most artists of his era, doing the same genre of picture, think out their pictures in conventional ways, in contrast to which Monet’s image is full of direct perception, thought and incident.
Another artist of the more conventional type is Théodore Claude Félix Caruelle d’Aligny, who besides possessing a name that is a real mouthful, produced some quietly charming and well ordered scenes very much after the manner of Corot.
Certainly one surprising fact one walks away with is the observation that painters of Fontainebleau seem to excel at landscape in inverse proportion to the lengths of their names. Thus one really shouldn’t be surprised to find Claude Monet among the best. Still, all said it’s a lovely exhibit and a regular timeship ride back in time, back to an era of open fields, clean air, raw nature and dramatic, dense and beckoning forests.