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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beauford and the Influence of Claude Monet

Everyone in Paris who has an interest in art is talking about Claude Monet these days. The huge retrospective of this revered Impressionist painter at the Grand Palais is sold out through the end of the exposition on January 24, 2011! Not to mention the fact that the 170th anniversary of his birth (November 14, 1840) was just a few days ago, and the 84th anniversary of his death (December 5, 1926) is rapidly approaching.  Amidst the buzz, I thought it appropriate to look at how Monet’s work influenced Beauford.

Beauford first saw Monet’s work in Boston, shortly after Monet died. The exposition was held in the studio of American artist John Singer Sargent, whose work also influenced Beauford. In the biography Amazing Grace, author David Leeming indicates that Beauford “found a serious attempt to understand the effects of different stages of daylight on color and form” in Monet’s paintings. Citing Monet’s Water Lily (French translation: Nymphéas) series, Leeming also states that Monet’s view of light as subject matter during his later years is suggestive of the abstract expressionism that Beauford would adopt years later.

In the catalog for the 2004-2005 Minneapolis Institute of Arts exposition Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, curator Sue Canterbury notes that Beauford arrived in Paris the same year that the Orangerie, home to Monet’s famous murals, was reopened (1953). She says that French gallery owner Paul Facchetti attested to the fascination that Americans had for Monet, and that they “all rushed like flies to one place: the Orangerie” to see the famous murals. Notes for her essay on Beauford’s “transatlantic transformation” indicate that Beauford mentioned Monet to his biographer Leeming on several occasions, and that friends of Beauford (including Ed Clark) believe that Monet’s work influenced Beauford’s early experiments with abstraction in Paris.

Nymphéas (detail)
(1920-1926) Oil on canvas
Claude Monet
Musée de l’Orangerie

In the same catalog, Michael D. Plante states that Beauford may have seen Monet’s paintings at the Orangerie in September, the month that he arrived in Paris. He describes in detail how Monet’s influence can be seen in Beauford’s paintings as early as 1954.

Richard A. Long arranged two visits with Beauford to see Monet’s works during the early 1970s – first to the Orangerie, and then to the Marmottan (not yet called Musée Marmottan Monet) shortly after the opening of the Monet galleries there.

(1916) Oil on canvas
Claude Monet
Musée Marmottan Monet

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Web site has an interesting education section for young students called Object in Focus. One of the “objects” is Beauford’s raincoat painting Untitled (1954), which students are encouraged to compare and contrast to Monet’s The Japanese Bridge (c. 1923-1925). Both paintings are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Untitled (raincoat painting)
Beauford Delaney
(1954) Oil on raincoat fragment
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury

The Japanese Bridge
(ca. 1923-1925) Claude Monet
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery showed three of Beauford’s paintings in a 2009 exposition called Abstract Expressionism: Further Evidence. The catalog for this show describes Beauford’s Paris abstractions as “lyrical, colorful, [and] non-objective” and “pure and simplified expressions of light.” It goes on to say that “the paintings have clear ties to Monet’s studies of light…”

I believe that Beauford would have been first in line to see the current Monet exposition at the Grand Palais – if he could have gotten a ticket! I plan to go to the Orangerie to see Monet’s murals in honor of the occasion.

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