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Claude Monet, View from Rouelles, 1858. Oil paint on canvas; 18-1/2 x 25-5/8 in. Marunuma Art Park, Asaka. Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

How the Denver Art Museum Curated Its 2019 Monet Exhibition

One of the largest-ever selections of Claude Monet paintings is coming to the Denver Art Museum in 2019. Here's a look at how the museum organized this extraordinary exhibition.

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An upcoming exhibition showcasing the work of French painter Claude Monet didn’t land at the Denver Art Museum by chance. Instead, curators Angelica Daneo, Christoph Heinrich, and Alexander Penn have worked tirelessly for more than three years to bring their grand idea to fruition. The result of their efforts—the largest collection from the French impressionist in more than two decades—debuts at the DAM on October 20, 2019.

The exhibition will explore the artist’s extensive career and the places he traveled to paint. More than 100 paintings will span three galleries—the largest show the museum has presented in 10 years. Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature will start at the beginning of Monet’s career, and end with the last paintings he ever worked on. “In between, we really cover all the major stations of his life connected with a variety of very distinct places,” says Heinrich, the Frederick and Jan Mayer director of the DAM.

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Famous paintings like Monet’s 1899 work, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, will be featured, along with many lesser-known paintings. “[Monet] is probably one of those artists that even if you have very little interest in art, you’ve probably heard of him,” says Angelica Daneo, curator of paintings and sculpture. Daneo hopes visitors—no matter their level of artistic knowledge—can appreciate and form their own ideas about Monet’s paintings. “I’m excited for visitors to see these paintings for themselves,” she says. “Not everyone gets to see so much Monet all at once, and compare and contrast the paintings.”

But the formation of the exhibition wasn’t a walk in the Parc (The Parc Monceau, 1878). When the DAM first announced the news, the curators were frustrated that some initial press coverage suggested the museum was selected as a stop on the exhibition’s tour, when in reality it was the three-person team—in conjunction with the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany—who organized, designed, and worked to bring this collection to Denver. 

“I think a Monet project was on our minds for a long time with the four paintings that were in the Hamilton Bequest,” says Heinrich. In 2014, art collector and philanthropist Frederic C. Hamilton presented 22 impressionist artworks to the DAM from his private collection, four of which are by Claude Monet. Shortly after the bequest, the museum presented “Nature as Muse,” an exhibition featuring landscape paintings by 19th century impressionist artists. It didn’t take long for the curators to consider another project.

After they formed a partnership with the Museum Barberini, the curators got to work, requesting artwork from institutions around the world, like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and Princeton University. “Of course, when you do something like this, a letter is not enough,” Heinrich says. “You go to different places and you have to make the case why their painting is so important for the narrative and the context. You have to be very patient.”

Claude Monet, Path in the Wheat Fields at Pourville (Chemin dans les blés à Pourville), 1882. Oil paint on canvas; 23x 0-1/2 in. Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Collection

The curators’ extensive experience and previous successes only aided their quest. According to the DAM, Heinrich’s past curated exhibitions, such as Nature as Muse and Embrace!, elevated the museum’s reputation, making a request of this capacity less daunting. Prior to working for the DAM, Heinrich held a 12-year tenure at the Kunsthalle Hamburg in Germany, where he organized more than 50 exhibitions, including exhibits like Andy Warhol: Photography.

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Daneo, who was the local curator for In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism, is an important player at the DAM as well. Since joining the museum in 2004, Daneo has curated numerous exhibitions like Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism (2008), Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy (2011), Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum (2013), and this year’s Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism.

Efforts be damned, some museums still turned down the DAM’s requests. According to Daneo and Heinrich, lenders typically decline a loan based on the condition of the artwork, or if the loan would conflict with other ongoing or upcoming projects. And given the importance of these artworks, the DAM curators visited several institutions in person in order to secure the loans.

While tracking down and requesting the paintings was challenging, the curators say the more difficult task was deciding which of Monet’s works should be featured—and which should be left out.

“You can imagine, there’s blood and sweat with everyone. It’s like picking your favorite child…you can’t do that!” Daneo laments. Although she can’t pick a favorite Monet painting, she is excited to bring Boulevard des Capucines and Argenteuil to Denver. “Monet, despite his constant travel, always went home to his family,” Daneo says, noting that the artist and his family moved to Argenteuil, France in 1871. “This work is significant not only for his aesthetic merit but for our narrative.”

Argenteuil is also on Heinrich’s mind. “It indicates Monet’s golden years,” he says. “Argenteuil was really the first time he was successful, he could sell his paintings, he had a family, and he was settling down. This house, this painting, really brings it all in a beautiful way, together.”

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But for Heinrich, the excitement goes beyond a singular work.

“What I really like when thinking about this show is that we’re doing something that hasn’t been done for 10 years,” he says. “We were really discussing this for quite a while because we didn’t want to make it too big. But we realized it is actually a whole life—the life of one artist. There is a lot of storytelling, as well, and content that we cover in 60, almost 70, years of his creative mind.” Both Daneo and Heinrich hope visitors will understand and follow the story they believe is worth telling.

After its presentation in Denver, the collection will travel to the Museum Barberini in the spring of 2020. While other museums have reached out asking to be on the tour, Heinrich says it’s really tough to get these loans even for two venues. “That’s always the nature of the beast when you do projects like this—that it’s not something that can extensively travel,” he says.

And that makes this exhibition even more special. “Denver is growing and getting to be more and more of an art appreciating town,” Heinrich says. “We’re really trying to bring the best to this amazing community.”

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