“Without fog, London would not be beautiful,” said Claude Monet when visiting the city in the late 1800s. So taken was the founder of impressionism with the city’s weather that he painted its bridges, parliament and river shrouded in mist, works which will be displayed next year as part of the first major UK Monet exhibition in almost two decades, at the National Gallery.
While Monet is most famous for his nature scenes, such as his series of waterlilies, the National Gallery show will be the first devoted to his relationship with architecture.
Monet & Architecture, which will be on show from April 2018, will trace the French artist’s career through his paintings of Rouen Cathedral, the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, the architecture of Venice and the views he painted of the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge when visiting London several times as a tourist between 1899 and 1901.
“The built environment provides the focus for his artistic experimentation … both the motifs and the structures of his compositions,” said the National Gallery director, Gabriele Finaldi.
“He spent quite a lot of time in London and was fascinated by the way the light, and the fog in particular – that distinctive characteristic of London – transformed the look of the city over the course of the seasons, and even over the course of the day.”
Finaldi batted away suggestions that people had reached saturation point when it came to Monet. While this will be the first major retrospective of the artist since 1999, his work has featured recently in various smaller shows and group exhibits, including the National Gallery’s own Monet: The Water Garden at Giverny and Painting The Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse at the Royal Academy. Finaldo said next year’s show would feature 70 works, including several that have never been seen in the UK before.
“I don’t think we can get enough Monet,” he said. “He was such an extraordinary, such an inventive and such a beautiful artist. He was so influential and so wide-ranging, I think we should be having Monet exhibitions every 10 years.”
The National Gallery had a successful year in 2016, bringing in 6.3 million visitors, making it the fifth most visited museum in the world, and in March it opened its first new gallery since 1991. The chair of trustees, Hannah Rothschild, made it clear that “despite the tragic events in Manchester and London, the National Gallery will continue to stay open”.
She said: “In these uncertain times, the gallery has an important role to play as a place of contemplation and as a sanctuary, and I’d go even further than that: I think culture provides an essential public service, a balm for the soul.”
Other upcoming exhibitions to be staged by the National Gallery include a June 2018 exhibition of the work of the 19th-century artist Thomas Cole, who was born in Bolton but moved to America, and whose work is rarely seen outside of the US. The show will be in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Finaldi described Cole as the great interpreter of the American landscape. “In a way, he’s the artist who made the Americans take notice of their own landscape, its extraordinary dramatic qualities and its incredible possibilities as a subject for modern painting,” he said.
The exhibition will feature Cole’s landscape works, as well as his vivid series The Course of Empire, painted between 1833 and 1836, which traces the rise and fall of human civilisation, from what he called the “savage state” of nature to the desolation of empire and of man.
Another exhibition, opening in October 2018, will explore the relationship between two artists of the renaissance, Giovanni Bellini, born around 1430, and Andrea Mantegna, born 1431. Lorenzo Lotto, widely celebrated as one of the greatest portraitists of the Italian renaissance, will also be the focus of a National Gallery exhibition in November next year.
A large number of the National Gallery’s upcoming shows are collaborations with European museums, including the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Staatliche Museen in Berlin. Finaldi said they were keen to preserve these relationships in the future, even after Brexit.
“It’s very natural that we collaborate with our colleagues abroad, because that’s where the expertise is, that’s where the collections are, our audience here is primarily a European audience,” he said, adding that he had recently asked the Italian culture minister about future loans and collaborations and had been reassured by his response.
“He told me: ‘Anyone who suggests in my ministry that we stop collaborating with Britain will be severely reprimanded,’ so that was a very warm endorsement from the Italians and is something we’ll be working on with great enthusiasm in the future.”