About the Exhibition

Claude Monet (1840–1926), one of the most renowned and beloved French Impressionist painters, is celebrated for his seemingly fleeting impressions of the natural world. While he has been hailed as the plein-air painter par excellence, his art is not, however, as spontaneous as it may first appear.

Monet: A Bridge to Modernity is the first monographic exhibition in Canada devoted to the artist in almost two decades. Here, the National Gallery of Canada brings together twelve seminal works from collections around the world that highlight Monet’s methodical approach through his innovative experiments with the motif of the bridge. He did not simply paint what he saw; rather, he was an astute and deliberate artist who used this motif as a laboratory for working out his painterly technique and aesthetic ideas.

Monet painted these works during his stay in Argenteuil, a bustling suburb of Paris where he settled in late 1871 after his self-imposed exile in London and Holland during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). Upon his arrival in the small town Monet became fascinated with the local highway and railway bridges, repeatedly returning to this subject. In his important early work Le pont de bois (1872), currently on long-term loan to the Gallery, he depicts the highway bridge under repair following the destruction wrought by the war – a tribute to France’s return to order. With a cropped view and flattened perspective reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, Monet frames the river basin with the wooden structure of the bridge and the scaffolding, effectively creating a picture within a picture frame. This daring composition, in which the artist demonstrates a conscious interest in “picture-making,” became the point of departure for similar explorations of the bridge theme, each with a different viewpoint, technique, colour and brushwork. What resulted were paintings of startling modernity that cemented Monet’s status as one of the leaders of the nineteenth-century French avant-garde.

This focus exhibition casts new light on Le pont de bois as it delves into the historic, sociological and artistic context of the early years of Impressionism in the early 1870s. The twelve paintings on view are accompanied by a collection of nineteenth-century photographs, illustrations, guide books, Japanese prints and postcards. A truly immersive experience, Monet: A Bridge to Modernity provides a fresh view of some of the Impressionist’s most treasured works from a pivotal period in his career.

Monet’s talent… in my opinion is very serious and very pure… it is a highly conscious art, based upon observation and derived from a completely new feeling; it is poetry through the harmony of true colours…

Camille Pissarro, 1873
Claude Monet, The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874, oil on canvas, 89.8 × 81.4 cm. Neue Pinakothek, Munich. 1912 Tschudi Contribution. Photo © Neue Pinakothek / Art Resource, NY

Claude Monet: The Argenteuil Years

Monet’s stay in Argenteuil, from late 1871 to 1878, marked a critical period in his career. Thirty-one-years-old, newly married and with a young son, he returned to France after the Franco-Prussian War and settled in the Parisian suburb near the banks of the Seine, embarking on a period of intense creativity during which he developed his powers of observation and visual analysis and refined his distinctive approach to landscape painting. In his first year at Argenteuil, Monet produced almost as many works as he did in the three years prior, painting the town’s busy streets and buildings, vine-covered hillsides, his own family in their rented house and garden , and the rippling Seine with its modern bridges. Until the end of 1873 the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel purchased Monet’s works nearly as fast as he could paint them, granting the artist a measure of financial success for the first time in his career.

Monet’s colleagues, including Alfred Sisley, Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, would often join him in Argenteuil, painting together and benefitting from one another in the process. Monet also played an important role in organizing the first of eight exhibitions of the “Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc.” in April 1874 in Paris, where the artist’s Impression Sunrise (1872) garnered much attention. Monet’s paintings of the Argenteuil bridges, executed during these momentous years surrounding the birth of the Impressionist movement, are among the most experimental and innovative compositions in his early career.

I have painted the Seine throughout my life, at every hour, at every season. I have never tired of it: for me the Seine is always new

Claude Monet, 1924
Claude Monet, The Port at Argenteuil, c. 1872, oil on canvas, 60 × 80.5 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY


Meet the Expert

1 Saturday 31 October 2015 at 12:00 pm
2 Saturday 31 October 2015 at 2:00 pm
In the exhibition space. Free with Gallery admission.

Explore Monet: A Bridge to Modernity with the exhibition curator, Anabelle Kienle Poňka. This tour will take place in English. Approximately one hour followed by a 10-minute bilingual question period.

Tour the Exhibition (in French)

1 Saturday 14 November 2015 at 12:00 pm
2 Saturday 14 November 2015 at 2:00 pm
In the exhibition space. Free with Gallery admission.

Explore Monet: A Bridge to Modernity with Béatrice Djahanbin, Education and Public Programs. This tour will take place in French. Approximately one hour followed by a 10-minute bilingual question period.

Xavier Rey Lecture

Thursday 26 November 2015 at 6:00 pm
In the Auditorium followed by a reception offered by the French Embassy in Canada in the Water Court Foyer. Free admission.

L’impressionnisme et au-delà : Claude Monet au musée d’Orsay
[Impressionism and Beyond: Claude Monet at the Musée d’Orsay]
In French: English simultaneous interpretation available if you make the request to rsvp_interp@gallery.ca before 23 November.

Join us for a lecture by Xavier Rey, an Impressionism specialist from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Rey will highlight Claude Monet’s position within Impressionism and address the characteristics of this particular style. Lecture presented in collaboration with the French Embassy in Canada.

Mary-Dailey Desmarais Lecture

Thursday 21 January 2016 at 6:00 pm
In the Auditorium. Free admission.

A Bridge to Another World: Claude Monet and Camille on her Deathbed
In English: French simultaneous interpretation available if you make the request to rsvp_interp@gallery.ca before 14 January. On 21 January 2016, seats in the Auditorium will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

This lecture offers a radically different interpretation of Monet’s practice through close analysis of one of his most unusual and least studied paintings, Camille sur son lit de mort [Camille on her Deathbed], 1879. Far from an anomaly in Monet’s practice, as has often been argued, Camille sur son lit de mort is here considered a pivotal painting in his oeuvre — one that bridges Monet’s fidelity to external reality with his attention to the under-observed hauntings of the negative space.

Take a Group Tour for Adults

From Tuesday 3 November 2015 to Sunday 14 February 2016
Duration: 1 hour 

Groups must include a minimum of 10 people. Cost: $7 + Gallery admission. Registration required. Please call 613-990-4888 or email reservations@gallery.ca.

Take a Group Tour for High Schools – Grades 7–12

From Tuesday 3 November 2015 to Sunday 14 February 2016
Duration: 1 hour

Groups must include a minimum of 10 students. Cost: $7. Registration required. Please complete the registration form here.

Create an Impressionist Landscape of an Iconic Ottawa Bridge

Ongoing activity in the exhibition space. Free with Gallery admission.

Monet used his immediate surroundings as sites for experimentation. Often done in sequence or in series, his landscape paintings are variations on composition, colour and technique, all in the service of bringing nature to life.  Watch a real-time film of an iconic Ottawa bridge, then be inspired to create an iPad Impressionist landscape in the style of the artist. There are four Ottawa bridges to choose from: each real-time film is projected in twenty-minute segments in a loop.

Travel to the Nineteenth Century: Greetings from Argenteuil

Ongoing activity in the exhibition space. Free with Gallery admission.

Use the props provided by the Gallery to dress up as an artist painting en plein-air, or as a tourist strolling along the Seine. Take a self-portrait in front of a large-scale vintage postcard representing the highway bridge, which Monet painted many times during his years in Argenteuil. Then share your photograph with your friends or family via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Watch Le scandale impressionniste [Scandalous Impressionists]

Written by François and Stéphane Lévy-Kuentz
On view in the exhibition space. Free with Gallery admission.
The DVD is available in the NGC bookstore.

This documentary traces the adventures of Monet and his fellow Impressionist painters who broke away from the traditions espoused by the official Salons and launched a new movement. Duration: 52 minutes. © productions 2010 Scotto Productions/Arte/Rmn-Grand Palais in partnership with the Musée d’Orsay and Normandie impressionniste.

The integral English and French versions of this documentary are presented during exhibition hours, according to the following Presentation Schedule:

  • 10:30 am English
  • 11:30 am French
  • 12:30 pm English
  • 1:30 pm French
  • 2:30 pm English
  • 3:30 pm French
  • 4:30 pm English (Thursday only)
  • 5:30 pm French (Thursday only)
  • 6:30 pm English (Thursday only)

Exhibition Catalogue$25.00

Monet: A Bridge to Modernity
Hardcover | 96 pages

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Adapted from Claude Monet's painting
Waterloo Bridge: the Sun in a Fog (1903)
112 cm (44 in.) arc.

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