On the Monet

monetWe had a rare (genuinely rare) treat at the weekend – a trip to Abbot Hall art gallery in Kendal to see a painting by Claude Monet.

The gallery is a lovely place to visit anyway, with a regular exhibition of local artist George Romney’s works, links to local notables such as Lady Anne Clifford, and an ever-changing wealth of more modern works. And this year, for a short time only, they have a Monet, on loan from National Galleries Scotland.

The picture, Haystacks: Snow Effect, is one of a whole series Monet painted of the effect of changing light and seasons on haystacks in a farmer’s field near where he lived. The results are fascinating, and a real insight into the methods he used when he worked. In this case, the picture shows the haystacks after a snowfall, with a hazy background, and the texture of the snow itself beautifully captured by thick brushstrokes.

Like so many paintings by real ‘masters’ of their art, it’s the quality of the light that takes your breath away. I took one look and felt a lump in my throat, not of sadness but of emotion at the skill and beauty. It felt less like a work of art, and more like a view through a window onto a scene that you could walk out into and experience for yourself.

As an interesting side-note, Dave noticed that the angle of the shadows on the two haystacks doesn’t quite line up, showing that it took Monet some time to paint each haystack individually. By the time he’d moved on to the next one, the sun had also moved, which shows that one, it took him many minutes to complete each stack, and two, he presumably painted the scene straight onto canvas rather than sketching it first. Another insight into the way a great artist worked, and not one I’d have noticed myself!

My only slight criticism was the lack of information about the painting. There was an information board in the room where it was displayed, but it only contained background information on Monet himself, and on the whole series of haystacks paintings. Usually in galleries there’s a small card pinned somewhere near the art work with the artist, title of the work, date it was painted, and a small amount of information (where this is known). In this case I’d have particularly liked to know what time of day the scene was painted, as the surreal yet beautiful pink glow on the snow could have been either sunrise or sunset. As it was, there was no card, no information, not even a sign with the painting’s title (which we eventually tracked down stencilled on a wall outside the exhibition room).

Actually, Abbot Hall seems a bit lacking in the labelling department. Another exhibition, on modern British art, had several really interesting quotes painted on the walls – but I had to ask a room warden who the quotes were by, as there was no indication. And the labels for several of the paintings in that exhibition were placed so far away from the relevant works that it became something of a treasure hunt trying to find out who’d painted what!

However, that’s a minor gripe, and we spent a really enjoyable hour wandering about, and discovering the works of another local artist, the Workington-born Percy Kelly, into the bargain. Neither of us had heard of him before but we loved the examples of his work, so that was a happy bonus – as was a quick coffee in the gallery’s newly-refurbished café (it suffered during Storm Desmond).

And if you want to go and see the Monet haystacks for yourself, it’s at Abbot Hall until 28 April this year. Admission is around £7 per person, but that includes the whole of the rest of the gallery so it’s good value for, er, Monet!

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