The Denver Art Museum is the only U.S. location for a sprawling exhibition about Claude Monet.
With 120 paintings spanning his long career, the show is organized chronologically. Like the splendid “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit a few years ago, it’s a chance to observe the development of a gifted visual artist. That Monet showed an early talent for caricature, he didn’t pursue that path. Instead, he became a leading figure in the movement called Impressionism.
He titled one of his 1872 paintings: “Impression, Sunrise.” A hostile critic mocked the blurry urban landscape and called it a mere impression, closer to a sketch than a finished work of art. The term Impressionism stuck, and Monet and colleagues embraced it as a descriptive emblem.
So goes the story of a late-19th-century school of artistic endeavor. And now, the Denver Art Museum, in collaboration with the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, have mounted a spectacular exhibit that draws work from museums all over the world and from private collections.
Anticipating crowds of Monet lovers, DAM has created a crowd-control scheme used for blockbuster exhibits. Tickets are allotted on 15-minute intervals and you must purchase in advance. A cautionary note: If you plan to go, visit after lunchtime because Denver schoolchildren are being bused in during morning hours.
The earliest painting on display is from 1858, when Monet was only 18. “View from Rouelles” appears to be a modest but conventional landscape with poplar trees in the distance and water in the foreground. Leap to the end of the exhibit and you’ll see a 1926 painting completed shortly before Monet’s death: “The House Seen through the Roses.” The loose, expressive brushwork is a far cry from the tight and descriptive early landscape.
And that’s the trajectory this remarkable painter was on. As a student, he did what most art students do – imitated the techniques of old and current masters. It wasn’t until the 1870s that Monet and a cohort of likeminded artist friends broke free of convention and the academic stranglehold of the official salons. Monet, Renoir and others started painting outdoors, en plein air, as the French would say, and rejected the smoky, stifling atmosphere of the studio, the way things had always been done.
Monet in particular took the passion for observing light and color flickering in natural scenes to a logical conclusion. If the goal was to paint what one truly sees and feels in nature, then every moment is a different sensation. When he began to paint the same subject in different natural conditions, he underscored what Impressionism truly meant.
He was also one of the most traveled of the Impressionists, journeying well beyond Paris to the Normandy Coast, to London and to the Mediterranean. He rediscovered the beauty of light and color everywhere, and at the end of his life at Giverny, he settled his gaze on his gardens, most notably on a small bridge, the Japanese Bridge, and his beloved waterlilies. Both are represented in the exhibition.
As thrilling as individual paintings or a series might be, it is the comprehensive nature of the exhibit that drives home Monet’s creative process – from the conventional to the extremely personal and groundbreaking works of his mature career.
HHHWhen Nora Helmer abruptly left her husband and children in 1879, it was a shock. What would happen if 15 years later she returned?
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has chosen to open its fall season with a pair of plays that knit together Helmer’s story and two centuries of Western theater. At DCPA until Nov. 24, Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 “A Doll’s House” has been paired with its remarkable sequel, Lucas Hnath’s 2017 “A Doll’s House Part 2.”
The double bill offers a rare opportunity to revisit evergreen arguments between social obligations and individual freedom. In Denver, scheduling has made it possible to see both plays in one day or subsequent days. The two works are performed in repertory, which means you will see company actors in both plays. For example, Barbra Wengerd plays Nora in Part 2 and Nora’s friend, Christine Linde, in Ibsen’s drama. Only actor Leslie O’Carroll plays the same part in both works, the family’s loyal nanny Anne Marie.
That said, the pairing heightens Nora’s original awakening by imagining her future after her famous, door-slamming exit. Of course, you can see one or both plays, but it’s a singular experience to see the original and the imagined return.
Hnath’s (pronounced Nayth) sequel is simultaneously a tense drama and biting comedy. Set in 1894, the play unfurls with startling recognition scenes and hefty arguments. The New Yorker’s D.T. Max wrote in April: “The hallmark of a Hnath script is robust argument, but these debates are always infused by the stormy relationships around them.”
Part 2 unfolds in 90 minutes without intermission. Period costumes and a spare Helmer front hall establish the time, but be prepared to be jostled by contemporary language. It helps to know the general story of stifling norms, but Hnath’s writing cleverly anchors the original tensions into ongoing, contemporary dilemmas.
Denver’s unusual double bill dramatically demonstrates pressures that continue to plague modern relationships and an individual’s quest for self-fulfillment.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.