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Monday, 25 January, 1999, 08:58 GMT
Shining light in Monet's shadow
Jean-Marie's Giverny garden
Jean-Marie's Giverny garden
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

This week the curtain went up on the much-publicised Monet in the 20th Century exhibition at London's Royal Academy of Arts.

But for those with no stomach for the crowds there is something to hold out for in May.

Jean-Marie Toulgouat
Jean-Marie Toulgouat: "As a child I thought everyone's family was like mine"
This is when the latest works of Monet's 71-year-old great-grandson go on show at the Francis Kyle Gallery, just down the road from the academy.

The gallery has represented Jean-Marie Toulgouat since 1984. This will be its eighth exhibition of his paintings. It shows that, regardless of his illustrious relative, Jean-Marie is an artist in his own right.

Although originally qualifying and practising as an architect, Jean Marie's first love was always painting. So, in 1966 he gave up his 16-year career and took up his brush in earnest to paint the beautiful landscapes of his home in Normandy.

Since then he has held 16 one-man shows in France, Holland the US and Britain. All in all it is an impressive catalogue of work which Jean-Marie strives to promote on its own merits.

Rich history

This has been no mean feat considering his ancestry. Jean-Marie's grandmother was Monet's step-daughter Suzanne Hoschedé, who was married to Monet's disciple - the American Impressionist Theodore Butler.

Flora of Giverny
He was brought up in Giverny, yards from Monet's house where he spent most of his time. Later he lived with his great-aunt Blanche Hoschedé.

She painted alongside Monet and was his closest companion in his old age.

Monet had died the year before Jean-Marie was born and the famous pink house with the green shutters was like a museum.

"The walls were covered with his paintings and there were also many others by his friends Pisarro, Manet, Cezanne and Renoir. I took it all for granted," says Jean-Marie.

And he spent much of his childhood immersed in the light, colours and flowers of his great-grandfather's beloved garden.

With such an upbringing it is not surprising that Jean-Marie was already at the easel by the age of two.

The Long Avenue of Manotte
The Long Avenue of Manotte
But in leaving Giverny for Paris, to take up architecture rather than painting, he was in part trying to escape the inevitable comparisons that would be made.

When he finally returned in 1966 it was to help reconstruct Monet's garden to its former glory.

Allowing himself to be inspired by his surrounds, he became a full-time painter, as he had always wanted. And what the critics would say no longer mattered.

Finding a voice

True, he chose to paint the same subjects as his great-grandfather. But, he realised, his style was contemporary and very much his own.

"Over the years my painting has evolved from the abstract to a more gentle reflection on nature," Jean-Marie says.

The Long Iris Avenue
The Long Iris Avenue (Monet's garden)
His favourite colours are blues and greens. For subject, he takes the garden of his house in Giverny - the same house he lived in as a child.

In the summer, he takes further inspiration from the countryside around his second home in the south-west of France.

On occasion he also paints Monet's garden itself, using the impressionist palette of colours.

To do so, some might say, is surely asking for the critics' scorn. But Jean-Marie takes it in his stride.

"I would have been a painter no matter who my family had been. If some people want to make an issue of it, they can. But if I let it get to me I couldn't carry on."

The Great Rose Tree
The Great Rose Tree of Voisin
But carry on he does, and with good reason. He has a keen following and his paintings sell - some for several thousand pounds.

And before the finishing touches have been put on his show in May, he is already busy working on the next.

Jean Marie Toulgouat's work is on show at the Francis Kyle Gallery, Maddox Street, London W1 from 25 May to 24 June. (Tel: 0171-499 6870).

Monet in the 20th Century is being held at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London from 23 January to 18 April. (Tel: 0171-300 5760).

See also:

20 Jan 99 | Entertainment
London goes Monet mad
20 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Monet's kindred spirit
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