Whatever the subject matter or the content there is something unsatisfactory about a blockbuster exhibition. Firstly the crowds inhibit any true appreciation of a picture when as many as ten gather around it. Secondly there is the blatant commercialism that ensures you finish up in the museum shop. Thirdly it is often possible to view the pictures in a calmer milieu. Many of the Monet pictures of his garden particularly the Nympheas, the water lilies, are on permanent view in the Marmottan musee in the 16th arrondissementin Paris.
I had bought my ticket in advance hoping thst at 11 am on a Monday the crowd might be thinner. It was not the case. in the first couple of rooms of Monets I felt I was on a crowded tube. This is not to denigrate one of the great artists of any era but rather the conditions to view.
Mercifully the crowds thinned for a room of sumptuous Pierre Bonnards and an Edouard Vuillard. One Bonnard of his muse Marthe whom he painted no less than 382 times in a reverie in the garden was my favourite on view. It caught the dream like quality of a woman in her garden at one with nature. I must have seen the picture before but has forgotten the quality of the colours. The problem with Monet is that rather like famous Beethoven symphonies we are so familiar with his work.
The Royal Academy’s core membership is non-metropolitan. I can picture discussion of those putting together the exhibition that it’s attactive to their rural members with large landscaped gardens and they would come to London to make a day of it, staying at their club or a traditional family owned hotel like the Goring. Both the subject matter and exhibits were safe. If they were going to see a play it would not be something daring at the Almeida but an Agatha Christie or Noel Coward. Perhaps I’m being too unfair and not in the National Rust tradition of supporting popularity but it’s worth remembering that the Impressionists were banned from the first great salon exhibition , that Sir Alfred Munning as President of the Royal Academy decried modern art in a celebrated speech and that true art should be more ground breaking and less conventional. Put another way I remember a friend of mine being offended that the Rolling Stones Satisfaction was being played in the disco of a posh black tie 21st birthday bash he attended. Similarly after the Impressionists were banned I doubt if 175 years on any would have thought that mugs depicting their gardens would be being sold in the shop of the venerable Royal Academy.