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Saturday, 16 January, 1999, 08:59 GMT
The colour of Monet
Exhibition tracks artistic journey
To gauge the appeal of Claude Monet, just count the air miles clocked up as his masterpieces make their delicate way around the world.

Scarcely a year passes without one of the world's larger galleries staging an exhibition of his work somewhere.

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is now preparing to take its turn at showing the dreamy, pastel shade works in its biggest exhibition ever.

The majority of paintings have been assembled from public and private collections in America, Europe and Japan because only a handful of late works by the artist are held in British collections.

The climax of the exhibition will be a group of large-scale, late decorative paintings which are closely related to Monet's great sequence, Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, installed in the Orangerie, Paris, in 1926.

London's most expensive art show

moving150.jpg xHolt package 15 Jan 99
Exhibition has taken months of planning
Already, 115,000 people have booked tickets for the event, which is due to run from 23 January to 18 April.

At £9 a throw, they are the most expensive tickets yet for a London gallery.

But the Academy has debts of £500,000 and not a scrap of public funding. If the demand is there, it may even open 24 hours a day.

The show of more than 80 paintings started life in Boston, at the Museum of Fine Arts, and represents about a quarter of the work Monet produced between 1900 and his death in 1926.

Extroardinary artistic journey

It depicts his extraordinary artistic journey from, at the age of 60, the impressionism of his London landscapes and his views of Venice, through to Giverny, his beloved garden in France.

It was there, arguably, where he helped to lay the foundations of abstract art.

From 1900 until his death aged 86 in 1926, he created a body of work which built upon, yet departed from, the Impressionist style that he had pioneered in the previous century.

The scale of his work became more monumental, his handling of paint more gestural and the interplay between three-dimensional space and flat, decorative surface increasingly complex.

Monet mania

An added dimension to the Monet phenomenon in more recent years has been the incredible marketing opportunities presented by his images.

Anticipating Monet mania, the Academy is stockpiling all manner of memorabilia, including half a million Monet mugs and enough tea towels to soak up the lily pond at Giverny.

In Massachusetts it was the same story, and the Museum of Fine Arts also charged record admission fees of $17.50 - more than the price of tea at the Boston Ritz.

The stateside museum even painted its own fleet of buses with Monet scenes to ferry a record 500,000 visitors to the exhibition. The strategy paid off - the museum recruited 30,000 new paid-up members.

But that does not silence critics who say blockbuster gallery events detract from art and understanding it.

Huge crowds expected

They point to the fact that huge crowds will prevent art-lovers getting near the paintings they have paid dearly to see. The Royal Academy is expecting 6,000 people a day.

But such crowds would have been familiar to Monet. The Paris salon exhibitions of the mid 19th century were vast affairs, attracting up to 400,000 people.

Ultimately, it will be up to the people who attend the exhibition to decide whether they are getting a good deal.

If they are unhappy, they can vote with their feet - but there is no sign of that happening yet.

If, to quote Evelyn Waugh, all art is the art of pleasing, then Monet and the museums who promote him, are doing a wonderful job.

The BBC's Karen Bowerman: "One of the most exciting exhibitions London has ever seen"
See also:

02 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Record-breaking Monet exhibition
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