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Wednesday, 20 January, 1999, 17:38 GMT
Monet's kindred spirit
The Garden at Giverny: Inspiration for much of Monet's late work
The Garden (1900): Giverny inspired much of Monet's late work
The new blockbuster exhibition Monet in the 20th century is a bumper show that brings together for the first time 80 of the artist's latest and, many say, greatest works.

More than 130,000 tickets have been pre-sold and the Royal Academy of Arts, the show's host, is bracing itself for the expected crowds. But is the Father of Impressionism really worth all the fuss? BBC News Online asks the artist's great-grandson - by his second marriage - Jean-Marie Toulgouat about the frenzy that the mere mention of Monet's name now inspires.

Jean-Marie Toulgouat
What would Monet have made of this enormous interest in his work?

He would have been absolutely stupefied. In fact I think he would have had a heart attack with the shock. When he was alive this level of interest just did not exist and he even struggled to gain recognition and acceptance for much of his early career. And although he eventually found success, he would never have anticipated this.

Just why is he so popular now?

You have to remember that in his day the media did not exist and I believe that a large part of his popularity can be put down to the way his paintings have been picked up and proliferated by the huge media machine of today.

The Bridge over the Water Lily Pond
The Bridge over the Water Lily Pond (1900)
Is his work worthy of the interest it now inspires?

The huge interest in Monet's work is a particularly Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. Yes, Monet is loved by the French people. But in truth Renoir is more popular there.

In England he is huge and I believe this is due to the light and colour in his paintings. These are the colours and light of France, particularly the North of France and they just do not exist in Britain.

Does it matter that he has become so commercialised?

It is probably true to say that Monet is liked by the majority of people in a superficial rather than an intellectual way but this does not matter, it is still a way of educating people. In liking Monet, people gain not only a knowledge of art but also experience the light of the countryside and gain a glimpse of life in the 19th century.

Water Lilies (1907)
Water Lilies (1907)
Would he have been pleased by the level of interest in his work?

He would have been ecstatic. He was always unsure of his ability and how his work would be received. He always thought he had to do better and his uncertainty grew as he got older. And of course as he got older he had the added difficulty of failing eyesight which naturally increased his lack of confidence.

Did he believe he had 'natural' talent?

He always said that the idea of natural artistic inspiration was a fallacy. He said the ability to paint came from hard work and discipline and he was always very strict with himself about his work regime.

The Grand Canal  in Venice (1908)
The Grand Canal in Venice (1908)
Do you think his popularity will endure?

Impressionism is the big thing of the moment and we should all just try to enjoy it for the pleasure it brings.

But nothing lasts forever and I think people will eventually get tired of it and turn their sights elsewhere.

There have been many Monet exhibitions in London over the years so what is different about this one?

This the first time so many of his best-loved works have been brought together in one exhibition as well as those which have never been seen in public before, it is wonderful.

Water Lilies (1914-1917)
Water Lilies (1914-1917)
And do you have a favourite?

I love his last paintings - Les Grandes Décorations - they are so huge and awe-inspiring.

Can you imagine anyone putting so much time and effort into anyone piece of work? Here you can see seven together. Some are nearly 18 feet in length and took years to complete.

Do you paint?

Oh yes, it is the family "folie" and I have painted and exhibited for many years. I use many of the same colours as the Impressionists - and like them never earth colours or black. But my efforts are modest in comparison to my great-grandfather - I do not have his great discipline.

Monet in the 20th century runs from 23 January to 18 April 1999 at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. Tel: 0171- 413 1717 for tickets.

Jean-Marie Toulgouat's work will be on show at the Francis Kyle Gallery in London from 25 May to 24 June 1999. Tel: 0171-499 6870.

See also:

20 Jan 99 | Talking Point
Has art gone stale?
16 Jan 99 | Entertainment
The colour of Monet
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