Monet/Lichtenstein: Cathedrals Remembered, Reimagined

One of the world’s most celebrated and recognized artists, Claude Monet created a body of breathtakingly beautiful and conceptually sophisticated work that has been full heartedly embraced all over the world.  I never imagined I would have the opportunity to install a Monet, let alone five of Monet’s Rouen Cathedrals, for the exhibition Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals. Working on this project allowed me to reflect on the memories I had of Monet’s Rouen Cathedrals and how much these experiences shaped my understanding of modernism.  I can still picture the moment when I entered the gallery at the Musée d’Orsay where several of Monet’s cathedrals hung side by side along one wall; their ability to be both unique and serial at the same time was totally mind blowing.  Afterward, I traveled to Rouen—an hour’s train ride from Paris—where I saw firsthand the cathedral that inspired this series of paintings.

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, the portal. Morning Sun, Blue Harmony, 1893, Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France (Inv. RF2000). Photo courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux by Thierry Le Mage/Art Resource, NY.

Due to my experience at the Musée d’Orsay, installing these works was an incredibly surreal experience, made only more so because this exhibition also reveals the distinctive role the Southern California art scene has played in modernism.  In 1968, John Coplans, former director of the Pasadena Museum of Art (now the Norton Simon Museum of Art) and a vocal advocate for Los Angeles art, organized the landmark exhibition Serial Imagery.  During a meeting with Coplans to discuss the planning of the exhibition, young pop artist Roy Lichtenstein saw photographs of Monet’s cathedrals, inspiring him to use those images for his own series of paintings and prints (the largest set of these paintings, owned by the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, is on view in the exhibition).

Roy Lichtenstein, Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of Day), Set III, 1968–69. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Photo courtesy of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection by Douglas M. Parker Studio.

With Pacific Standard Time opening this past weekend, I find this connection particularly poignant and timely.  Bringing together these chronologically disparate artists reminds us of the importance of exhibitions in shaping contemporary art production and the strong connection between works of art and their preceding movements, which is one of the most important functions of an encyclopedic museum such as LACMA.

Lauren Bergman, Curatorial Assistant, Modern Art

6 Responses to Monet/Lichtenstein: Cathedrals Remembered, Reimagined

  1. stephanie says:

    nice comment lauren and beautifully installed

  2. Your highly praising, short scholarly comment about the ( abridged) Monet Cathedral series vis a vis the LIchtenstein ” interpretations” should be appreciated.
    I have seen most of the Cathedral paintings of Monet; studied, ” re-painted” the entire series ( of 30!) and last year exhibited them locally. You might be interested to look at them.
    Laszlo Gyermek M.D.

  3. They both stole the idea from JMW Turner’s RIVERS OF FRANCE.

  4. And by the way, JMW Turner could out paint both of them on their best day.

  5. Rouen Cathedral by JMW Turner was painted long before Monet or Lichtenstein ever thought of painting and can be found here: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/ruskin/empi/notes/gafran33.htm

    Look familiar?

  6. R Simonetti says:

    The Monet/Lichtenstein Rouen Cathedral exhibit offered me a very unusual museum experience. As I tried to understand what I was looking out, this wasn’t the typical viewing of great paintings, I discovered that as I stepped away from the painting the details became sharper and more focused and added a dramatic observing experience. In fact, in viewing the Lichtenstein paintings the cathedral’s form, shape and details were only, if not best, recognized from the maximum distance allowed in the exhibit space . At the closest viewing distance I only saw what I would call Lichtenstein’s pixels.
    Further investigation lead me to understand that Monet’s paintings were as much a study of changing light and mood as it was a serial representation of the Rouen cathedral.
    This exhibit represents a standout moment in my art museum experiences and touched me on both an intellectual and spiritual level. It’s impact still pleasantly bounces around in my mind

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