An Exhibit Not to Miss
This blog is sponsored by Carnegie Museum of Art
Two Things to Consider While Touring CMOA's Monet and the Modern City
It really is extraordinary to see how artists at the beginning of the 20th century depicted industry and the newly emerging landscape of the modern city through a lens so different than how we currently view industrial development.
When you visit this exhibit, there are two themes you should keep an eye out for.
1) Serial Painting
Serial painting is the popular technique where artists paint many canvases (sometimes hundreds) of the same subject, in different conditions, times of day, or lighting.
This exhibit is an exceedingly rare chance to see three paintings from Monet's Waterloo Bridge series-- one from CMOA's collection, and two others on loan-- side by side. When you visit this exhibit, note the differences among them. Monet uses the same color palette, but achieves very different moods in the three, all painted from the balcony of his room at London's swanky Savoy Hotel. The impressionist painter went to London to paint this same subject matter over three years; he was fascinated with the morning fog, and its effect on light dispersion above the river Thames, a subject he painted on over 100 canvases over the course of several years.
Here's the irony of serial paintings: most believe that to truly understand and appreciate these works, you need to see multiple examples and compare them. the subject painted within the series. However, very few institutions are able to show more than one painting from a series, as they are displayed around the world. Does that mean that those gazing at one of Monet’s series are only getting part of the story?
Also in this exhibit, be sure to check out the works of other serial painters like James Whistler, who painted his own Thames set, but experimented with different vantage points for his paintings.
2) From Europe to Pittsburgh: the Beauty of Industry
At the turn of the 20th century, industrialization dramatically changed the landscape of European and American cities. Tall buildings, barges, smokestacks, and—dare I say-- pollution transformed the skyline and waterways from serene, natural scenes to industrial hubs. The artists of the time seized this new frontier, and captured it as a thing of beauty.
When you tour this exhibit, notice how Monet depicted how color changes based on light, smoke, and fog (or as we know it, smog). Smog was not a word in the early 1900s, just as those swept up in the Industrial Revolution had no way of knowing the lasting effects of the smoke and pollution billowing across the landscape, perhaps allowing artists of the time to appreciate the uninhibited beauty of the smoke in a way we cannot.
After you look at the works of Monet and the other artists working in Europe, check out how our own city was depicted in 1920 who by Aaron Gorson who painted the mills and steel industries in Pittsburgh at Night.
“I laugh when I hear people railing at Pittsburgh's smoky atmosphere,” Gorson wrote. “Foggy air adds wonderfully to the artistic effectiveness of the view.” Gorson remarked in a letter that he was devastated in the morning when the smoky air was gone, but he knew it would return later in the day, as the smokestacks returned to their work.
Joseph Pennell also aimed to capture the smoke effect in his etching The Railroad Bridge. “While the coming of electricity would make for a cleaner and more healthful environment, it would destroy the city's picturesqueness by eliminating the smoke,” he wrote.
It makes sense, I think, that artists of the time loved-- even obsessed-- over these industrial city scenes. People saw the development of Industry, even as it undertook the landscape, as a sign of progress: business was booming, men were working, and families were making money. This industry was vital to the livelihood of people as they dreamed of a prosperous future for themselves and their children. In this exhibition we can see the spirit of these modern cities.
CMOA's Monet and the Modern City exhibiton runs through September 2, 2019. It is sponsored by Citizens Bank.