What a pleasure it is, even for someone who has been living in Paris for the last 50 years, to take a walk across the Luxembourg Gardens at the south-western edge of the Latin Quarter!
Encircling the palace of the same name built in the early 17th century for Marie de Medici, the Queen of France, and today housing the French Senate, the vast garden is home to a number of historical sculptural monuments — including an earlier (and much smaller) version of the legendary Statue of Liberty by Frederic Bartholdi.
One part of the palace itself is now a museum — the Musée du Luxembourg — which is currently having an unusual exhibition dedicated to the works, but also to his many other contributions to the world of art, by a thus far much-ignored painter as well as art collector and art salesman named Leon Monet. He silently played an important role in the promotion of the Impressionist movement founded by his brother, Claude Monet.
Naturally, when you talk about Impressionism you cannot ignore other artists like Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Auguste Renoir, all of whom also played a significant part in the promotion of the Impressionist movement. Most of the wonderful works by these painters are present in the Musée du Luxembourg exhibition, laying an emphasis on Leon’s qualities of cordiality, frankness, intelligence and professionalism, which helped the aforementioned artists, including his brother Claude, turn into much-respected and sought after celebrities in their own lifetimes.
The contributions of Leon Monet, Claude Monet’s older brother, played an important role in the spread of the Impressionist movement
Many of these artworks, such as Leon’s chefs d’oeuvres [masterpieces], including a portrait of his brother Claude, alongside a number of photographs and important diaries and documents related to the subject, are also present in the show. Much to the delight of the visitors, the show also includes repeated theatrical performances, in which actors play the roles of the painters of the era.
Claude was born in and began his career in Paris before later moving to Giverny — a silent countryside town by a lake in the Normandy region in the north of France, where he created most of his celebrated works until the end of his life. Leon preferred staying in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, where he founded an art school and, thanks to his constant interest in the artists of his generation, brought together one of the most remarkable collections of Impressionist art.
The event, of course, exhibits most of the major paintings by Claude and other celebrated painters of the time, but it also showcases the artwork of lesser known or totally unknown artists from the School of Rouen, whose works Leon promoted, representing the landscapes of the Normandy coast and highlighting the Impressionist style created by his brother.
Additionally, the exhibition also presents a number of colour recipes, fabric samples and account books, evoking the industrial changes that the city of Rouen was undergoing during the period. The chemistry of synthetic dyes was already revolutionising paper and textile printing. Claude’s first sketchbook, dated 1856, and the portrait of his brother Leon painted in 1874 — the year of the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris — are also presented for the first time in an art exhibition and offer a pleasurable viewing experience for art fans.
‘Leon Monet, the Man Behind Impressionism’ is on display at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris from March 15-July 16, 2023.
The writer is an art critic based in Paris.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 11th, 2023