Claude Monet : The Spirit of Place

Once in a lifetime exhibition in Asia

4 May – 11 July 2016

Hong Kong Heritage Museum

The Great Artist shows us the Essence of Various Landscapes

It is a pleasure for the eye and peace to the mind – to see the spirit of selected landscapes and the ever changing natural beauty on Claude Monet’s canvas.

The founder of French Impressionist painting is not only a famous painter, but a masterful colourist and gardener, combining his love of nature and art in his works. This exhibition features 17 of Monet’s most emblematic paintings, pastels and tapestries conserved in French public collections, showcasing his career through landscapes. In moving from a style inspired by past landscape artists to a more personal approach, he moved from the simple representation of a place to the production of a series of paintings and to modern art. In the exhibition, the Monet’s most emblematic artworks conserved in both French public and private collections including Nymphéas, La Débâcle à Vétheuil, avec vue sur Lavacourt and Effet de Printemps à Giverny, will show you the great artist’s selected landscapes.

Especially fond of drawing and painting his own gardens, Monet painted in various places in France and Europe, such as Giverny, Etretat, London and Venice.  His works explore all possible viewpoints, seasons and variations of the beautiful nature.  Capturing the momentary effects of light, atmosphere and imperceptible details illuminating a landscape’s spirit, we can understand his appreciation of nature and his transformation from simple illustration of places to series of paintings and modern art in this exhibition. His genius and perseverance ensured the images he composed became universally renowned. The sites he painted were well known and easily accessible, especially once trains were invented. These were touristic areas, almost picture perfect. His work is original not because of his choice of subject but because of the way he approached it. Without a doubt, Claude Monet had the “spirit of place”. His canvases, painted over many hours and many seasons, capture the imperceptible differences constituting a landscape’s essence or spirit. 

Each section of the exhibition is dedicated to a specific place in France or Europe. There are four sections in total: Normandy and Brittany; Paris and the Ile-de-France region; London and Venice; and Giverny with its famous water lilies. Each section features an audiovisual and multimedia display with images from Monet's time and today. Presentations provide additional information on the artist's life, the revolutionary nature of the Impressionist movement and outdoor painting, and the importance of water, sky, earth and light in Monet's work.

Multimedia displays create an interactive visual experience for visitors. Focusing on the water lily ponds, they help visitors understand the original way in which Monet designed his work.

Come visit the exhibition and discover Monet’s Japanese Water Garden!

Monet began gardening in Argenteuil, where he met the painter Gustave Caillebotte. Monet’s gardens in Argenteuil and Vétheuil were modest affairs. However, his water garden in Giverny was a creation on a much larger scale. It took several years to develop, and involved several administrative hurdles. It featured a pond, which was fed by a neighbouring stream, and a green Japanese bridge on its western bank. In 1901, Monet tripled the size of the pond. He created an artificial island, which was connected to the shore by four small bridges. Working with his head gardener Félix Breuil and a team of five men, Monet planted several species of water lilies in different shades of white, mauve, pink and green. These plants bloomed in spring and flowered all summer. As the flowers only opened during the day, Monet gave tours of the garden before they closed at around 5 p.m.

This installation gives you an opportunity to visit the garden in Giverny. Using the digital tablets placed around the pond, paint your own water lilies onto the collective artwork inspired by Monet’s works.

Claude Monet's biography

Claude Monet is one of the leaders of the French Impressionist movement of the 1870s and 1880s.  His painting in 1873, Impression, Sunrise was taken as the name of this art style.  As an inspirational talent and a pioneer, Monet brought his fellow artists together.  Inspired by the Realist’s interest to paint in the open area, he began working outdoors in the late 1850s.  Since then till his death in 1926, he painted selected landscapes in France and Europe, such as Normandy, Giverny, London and Venice.

With his series paintings, he brought the realistic technique to one of his most famous pinnacles.  The art pieces were created through his observations of the same subject, which was viewed at different hours of the day, he would stay or several weeks, months or years, sometimes living there with his family.  In this way, his works explored all possible viewpoints, seasons and variations, as well as adding the unique feeling of a particular area.  A masterful colourist and as a painter of light and atmosphere, his later works achieved a remarkable degree of abstraction and at the same time captured the spirit of the places in numerous sequences of paintings.   His genius and perseverance ensured the images he composed became universally renowned. 

For nearly 70 years, Monet diligently depicted around a dozen places, with the creation journey began on the Normandy coast, where he grew up; and ended in Giverny, where he spent his last days – a place he painted by combining natural elements: air, earth and water.  His canvases, painted over many hours and many seasons, captured the momentary effects of light, atmosphere and imperceptible differences constituting a landscape’s essence or spirit.  We can understand his appreciation of nature and his transformation from simple illustration of places to series of paintings and modern art in this exhibition.

Monet developed a completely new approach to painting from 1800 onwards when he was in Normandy.  The artist’s paintings showed the place’s two essential features: sea and earth, with the changing sky reflected in the sea; the waves and tides; the changing effects of light.  Starting with a large fishing port and seaside resort Fecamp, he painted 21 landscapes, mostly from the top of cliffs presenting unusual viewpoints.   He then went to Pourville where he learned to focus on a few motifs and painted in every possible way, ended up completing around 30 works there. 

From the late 1860s, Monet lived and worked in and around the countryside of Paris (Ile-de-France).  The natural areas there were giving way to the industrial and urban zones and his paintings depicted both the city and the countryside; in preserved nature and modernity; in a kind of “social” landscape.  In 1871, he moved again, this time to a smaller town Argenteuil with a nice mixture of both natural and industrial subjects.  Afterward, he moved to a more rural place, Ventheuil in 1878 and spent a lot of time there.  This was a very difficult period for him, yet he experienced all kinds of weather and kept painting in all seasons.

Extending his repertoire beyond Normandy and the countryside, Monet began working on wild, spectacular and harsher landscapes.  In 1886, he planned a trip to Belle-Ile-en-Mer and his paintings presented the sea’s fleeting atmospheric changes and colours of the areas between Port-Coton and the Pointe de Talut, with a special focus on the Port-Goulphar cove.  He worked on a large number of canvases at one time to capture the changing views of the ocean.  No beaches, boats or humans activities, he concentrated on nature, on an impressive confrontation with the ocean.

The artist then saw the similarities of Brittany and Creuse – a place located between Berry and the Massif Central.  The rocky slopes and austere landscapes attracted his eyes and he once again painted many canvases showing the essence of the place.  The landscapes overlook the southern banks of the Creuse River, downstream of the rapids towards Crozant; Vervy bridge and mill, and two of the village of La Roche-Blond.  He painted 24 works here and for the first time he described his paintings as a series, but a “gloomy series”.  The weather kept changing and he sometimes worked on 11 canvases to catch the changes.  When he was painting and old oak tree, he even removed the leaves on it to keep the original look.

London is another place where Monet revealed its spirit and attractions in a series of paintings.  The first time Monet visited the city was in 1870, when he fled the Franco-Prussian war.  He painted the Thames and the Houses of Parliament from Victoria Embankment, as well as the Upper Pool and the changing tides.  His second visit was in autumn 1899, going there to see his son who was then studying English there.  This time, he observed the Thames from a suite on the sixth floor of the Savoy Hotel and began his series on London bridges: Charing Cross Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and the Houses of Parliament as seen from St Thomas’ Hospital.  The same viewpoint was used again when he returned to London for the last time in January 1901.  He tried working with pastels while waiting for his boxes of canvases to arrive.  During these 3 stays, he produced some of his most complex and extraordinary series at the height of his artistic powers.

In May 1883, Monet went to Giverny, where he spent the rest of his days and painted the beauty and peace of the place.  He rented a large house, turned the barn into his studio and built a boathouse for his boats on the Ile aux Orties, as well as creating a domesticated natural environment for him to work peacefully while maintaining control.  He extended and modified the place in the way he saw fit and painted several series: Haystacks (mostly painted in the Clos Morin), Poplars (on the banks of the nearby Epte River) and Water Lilies (the “water landscapes” using the pond he dug). 

Giverny is a remarkable location for Monet.  He created his later compositions here, stepping away from the Western painting traditions and moving towards abstraction.

Follow the great artist’s creation route and discover the essence and beauty of all these places.

Opening Hours: 
10 am – 6 pm on weekdays
10 am – 7pm on weekends and public holidays
Starting from 1 June, Wednesdays, weekends and public holidays shall extend to 8pm
Closed on Tue

Admission* (per person):
$20  Adults
$14  Groups of 20 persons or more
$10  Full-time students, people with disabilities (and one accompanying minder) and senior citizens aged 60 or above

$10  Adults
$7   Groups of 20 persons or more
$5   Full-time students, people with disabilities (and one accompanying minder) and senior citizens aged 60 or above

Free admission for Museum Pass, Monthly Pass holders and children under 4 years old

* The box office will be closed 30 minutes before the Museum closes

Bus routes to the museum: A41, E42, 72A, 80M, 86, 89, 282
MTR: A 5-minute walk from Che Kung Temple Station or a 15-minute walk from Sha Tin or Tai Wai Station