Philippe Piguet: “Monet was a true visionary!”

On 14 June 2018 Philippe Piguet, Claude Monet’s great grandson-in-law, will continue his lectures in Fondation Monet’s workshop room. This man of many hats talks about art world news and expands on his central role in the Normandy Impressionist Festival.

On 12 April, you delivered your first lecture in the Fondation’s workshop room. What was different about this event compared to ones from past years?

Previous ones were readings of extracts from my great grandmother Alice Hoschedé’s letters, whereas these ones are lectures on a topic. I wanted to mix it up a bit! The first, entitled “Claude Monet and the Rivers Seine, Epte and Ru”, related to the artist’s relationship with the Giverny landscape. In fact, Claude Monet used a spiral principle when creating the water lily pond. He started by spending time on the banks of the Seine, then moved to the banks of the Epte before diverting one of its branches to create his own cosmos. The second lecture will be held on 14 June and will focus on the question of reflection. Monet’s first famous painting, a farmhouse with a pond, already fell into the aquatic mirror category. It is interesting to think about his artwork’s two extremes, and to consider “Impression, sunrise” as well, which brings us to the conclusion that reflection is a fundamental driver of Claude Monet’s work. The following two lectures will be on the human form which, as it were, disappeared over time, and on creating the water lily pond.

What documentation or iconographic material do you use?

I use reproductions of paintings as well as, of course, photos and letters unearthed in family archives and preserved over time. My audience pays close attention and is already won over before arriving. So it’s easy for me to do!

You also have a presence in the Musée des Impressionismes Giverny, loaning the museum two prints from your personal collection for the Japanisms/Impressionisms exhibition.

The two prints are by the artist Kunisada and are mounted in one frame. That is what piqued the curiosity of the exhibition curator, Marina Ferretti! This is a particular framing choice, designed for prints that were on doors and chosen by Claude Monet. They are wonderful evidence!

Through prints, Claude Monet and the impressionists discovered a graphic design that contrasted with western aesthetic canons. Could we say that after encountering Japanese art, the Giverny artist could never approach a painting in the same way?

I don’t think we could categorically state that. However, it definitely influenced him! I can see that influence primarily in the water lily pond series. Such a daring composition, spanned by a Japanese bridge that has no visible support either on the left or on the right… This influence also comes through 25 years earlier, in “Impression, sunrise”, with his way of fusing the elements of water, air and earth! But let’s not forget that it was painting itself and its relationship with motif that led Claude Monet to produce compositions increasingly distant from those of accepted canons…

The “Water Lilies, American Abstract Painting and the Last Monet” exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie has made quite a statement. It reminds us that these Water Lilies were initially scorned by critics!

We do tend to forget that these major artworks, when they were publicly unveiled from May 1927 onwards, were far from being unanimously acclaimed! That is always the way with great artworks. They need to be seen through the eyes of others and for time to do its work.

This exhibition particularly enables us to see Monet in a new light: as a precursor to American abstract painting!

This superlative exhibition has already gone down in history in terms of its critical analysis. Of course, it’s not novel to say that this relationship between the last Monet and American abstract painting exists. But it is crucial to be reminded of it, as American abstract painting has not yet truly been embraced by common moral views. It is also good to remind people that Monet was a true visionary, primarily in relation to a type of pictorial writing created through the importance of gesturalism. However, remember that the Water Lilies is not an abstract painting! Because, you see, Monet had already crafted his motif! He transformed the fabric of nature’s geology to create a place dedicated to his work. And many years later – art issues take time! – the time would come when we would focus on everything that preceded Monet’s work: his decision to buy land, divert a stream, create a pond… Basically, the entire protocol that drove the artist. In this way, we now understand that he was a pioneer of another aesthetic adventure, which came much later, called land art!

You are also the new curator for the Normandy Impressionist Festival. What drew you to this project?

Someone said, “Why don’t you apply?” So I said, “I will!” The elected representatives who have supported this festival since 2010, both financially and intellectually, want to open it up and affirm that impressionism is still modern. And this new “hat” was probably put on my head because I cultivate a curiosity for impressionism and modern art!

The next festival will be held in 2020, however a series of teasers in the form of gatherings and events will pop up throughout 2018. Can you tell us more?

We will hold a press conference in early October. What I can say now is that there will not be a common theme as in previous festivals. A set theme is a bit like a funnel: it gets clogged because everyone wants the same works! Instead, there will be a general thrust cut through with a few drivers. We are currently producing short videos: “One artist, one place, one work”. These clips will be available on the websites of the festival and the museums involved, while the artwork will be displayed in the institution that holds it. Also, over the weekend of 13 and 14 October, we will be inviting some of our corporate museum partners to hold events. We want to fly the 2020 festival’s flag!