Ask most people to name a Monet (1840-1926) painting, and they’ll most likely suggest his renowned masterpiece, Water Lilies. Dubbed the Father of Impressionism – the philosophy of expressing ones feelings before the exact details of the scene in front of you – Monet is famous for his dream-like paintings of landscapes, gardens and seas. Yet he was also a prolific painter of buildings, often using them as the framework for his pastel-inflected artworks.
There’s never been a single exhibition looking at Monet’s career through the buildings he painted – until now. Monet & Architecture, at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, focuses on the design of his hometowns in Normandy, Rouen and Paris, and his later jaunts to London and Venice. From dwellings in villages and by the coast, to some of Europe’s most famous monuments, Monet painted the architecture of his time in his own matchless style.
Visitors are guided through the works in three sections: 'The Village and the Picturesque', 'The City and the Modern', and 'The Monument and the Mysterious'. Each explores how the painter captured a rapidly changing society though his portrayal of buildings. The collection features a rare gathering of some of Monet’s great ‘series’ paintings – five Dutch pictures from trips made in the early 1870s, ten paintings of Argenteuil and the Parisian suburbs from the mid-1870s, seven Rouen Cathedrals from 1892–5, eight London paintings from 1899–1904 and nine Venice canvases from 1908.
This exhibition might be about buildings, but the swirling atmosphere that’s painted around them remains the star of the show. While the architecture itself allows us to bear witness to his location – be that the fog-shrouded Houses of Parliament or the canal ways of Venice – it’s his use of colour and his dedication to the natural elements of mist, rivers and cloud that continue to draw the eye.
Exhibition visits should, in our opinion, always be paired with something to eat. Luckily, the gallery also plays host to one of our favourite restaurants within a London museum, The National Café. Refurbished last year, the restaurant was given a lick of paint and its classic European menu a modern makeover. Hits from the early evening menu include Devonshire crab ravioli with shrimp butter and cockles followed by Cumbrian chicken with chorizo and corn puree. Make sure to leave room for its chocolate and banana sundae.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square WC2N 5DN; until 29 July 2018