Vancouver Art Gallery unveils Monet’s Secret Garden

The new exhibition showcases revelations from the artist’s private collection

Claude Monet’s last painting before his death was the standout Les Roses | Contributed photo

Fancy a wander through the fertile mind of a visionary painter? The Vancouver Art Gallery invites its visitors to journey into the private collection of one of history’s most audacious artists with Claude Monet’s Secret Garden, the most comprehensive exhibition of the French painter to be mounted in Canada in two decades.

The exhibition – which opened to the public on June 24 – features 38 paintings spanning Monet’s career, including those created at the beginning and end of his prolific life. The 38 paintings are on loan from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, and were entrusted to the museum following the death of Monet’s son Michel in 1966, who himself had inherited the collection from his father.  

The elder Monet was known to destroy his own work if he grew dissatisfied with it, said Marianne Mathieu, deputy director of the Musee Marmottan Monet, during a recent media tour of the exhibition. Thus, the paintings included in Claude Monet’s Secret Garden are those from which Monet did not wish to part.

Monet's 'Impression, Sunrise', the 1872 work that gave the Impressionist movement its name | Contributed photo

The exhibition is organized chronologically, beginning with the smaller works he created in the late 19th century when he took to plein-air landscape painting in the French countryside. The exhibition winds through the paintings that sparked the Impressionist movement – although not Impression, Sunrise, Monet’s 1872 work that gave the Impressionist movement its name – and culminates with the groundbreaking canvases he produced in Giverny, the small village in northern France where Monet resided from 1883 to the end of his life in 1926.

It was in Giverny where Monet first nurtured, and then painted, the now iconic water lilies (as he did in 1903’s Nympheas), as well as weeping willows and the famed Japanese bridge. These expressive, colourful and sweeping masterworks – some quite massive and many lacking horizons – display Monet’s profound appreciation for nature, according to Ian M. Thom, a senior-curator at the VAG who co-curated the exhibition with Mathieu.

The exhibition highlights “just how brilliant of an artist [Monet] was,” says Thom, in a post-tour interview. “Seeing these things in reproduction is nowhere near like seeing them in the flesh. The subtlety of some of these works, and the freedom of the brushstrokes, is quite extraordinary. You can take little details of some of these paintings and they’d function perfectly well as abstract paintings.”

Claude Monet’s Secret Garden ends with Les Roses, the last painting he created before his death in 1926 at the age of 86.

The Monet exhibition is but one of several inhabiting the VAG this summer. Stephen Shore: The Giverny Portfolio occupies the room between Claude Monet’s Secret Garden and a dedicated Monet gift shop; this adjunct exhibition features a series of photographs shot by photographer Stephen Shore during visits to Monet’s Giverny gardens between 1977 and 1982.  

Also on the summer schedule: an exhibition of mixed media work by Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry; Persistence, which presents works from the Gallery’s collection that illuminate the shifting role and endurance of technologies, physical objects, and bodies; and Pictures From Here, which explores the birth of Vancouver’s photo-conceptualist movement through the work of Roy Arden, Christos Dikeakos, Stan Douglas, Greg Girard, Mike Grill, Fred Herzog, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Paul Wong, Cornelia Wyngaarden, Andrea Fatona, and others.

ª Claude Monet’s Secret Garden runs until Oct. 1 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. More at

Vancouver Westender