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Monet in the 20th Century
ISBN 0300077491 / 9780300077490 / 0-300-07749-1
Publisher Yale University Press
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After the scores of beautiful Monet books that have been published over the last two decades, it is hard to imagine that a new one could be indispensable. But this volume, the catalog of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (fall 1998, then travels to the Royal Academy of Arts in London) is more than just lovely. The main essay, by Paul Hayes Tucker, is a spellbinding history that ably places Monet and his late works in the context of the shattering political upheavals of his time. Tucker demonstrates the patriotic ideal of La France, which for Monet and his public was the ur-subject of his entire oeuvre up to the end of the 19th century, from the crashing waves at Étretat to the shimmering facades of Chartres. Then came the Dreyfus affair, with the Catholic Church and French conservatives united in an anti-Semitic attack against the innocent Jewish army captain accused of treason. Monet passionately and actively joined the writer Émile Zola, who was arrested for defending Dreyfus in his famous article, "J'Accuse." Tucker traces the rift in Monet's use of imagery from this time forward, as he turns his back on quintessentially French scenes to focus instead on the closely observed gardens in his own back yard. Tucker also subtly evokes Monet's despair during the long years of World War I, and his often heroic efforts to be of use, despite his age. This sumptuous volume, with its 12 fold-out plates of the Water Lilies, is very, very beautiful, but its story of an aging artist deeply engaged in his art and his times is something even better. --Peggy Moorman [via]