Paris is devoted to Monet this winter, with two important exhibitions that cover the full span of his career. “Claude Monet (1840–1926),” organized by the Musée d’Orsay and installed in the Grand Palais through January 24, is the first major retrospective in the country in 30 years—and the largest Monet show ever. At the same time, the Musée Marmottan Monet is drawing on its own collection to offer a more intimate view of the artist, in the exhibition “Monet: Son Musée” (Monet: His Museum), up through February 20.
The Orsay show brings together almost 200 works, from its own collection and from 70 other institutions the world over, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. Some have never before been seen in France.
But one work is conspicuously missing. Impression, Sunrise, the seminal 1873 painting that gave the Impressionist movement its name, is not here. Nor are the other major works that belong to the Musée Marmottan Monet. The Marmottan wanted to present its own show, and refused to lend its treasures to the Orsay.
That refusal caused a quarrel between the two institutions. The Marmottan is a much smaller museum, attracting about 300,000 visitors annually (the Grand Palais exhibition is drawing an average of 6,500 a day). But the Marmottan has the largest collection of Monet’s paintings in the world, thanks to a 1966 bequest from Michel Monet, the artist’s son. Its own show features 130 works, as well as sketches, notebooks, letters, and other memorabilia.
According to Jacques Taddei, the Marmottan’s director, the trouble began at a lunch he shared with Guy Cogeval, president of the Musée d’Orsay, about two years ago. Taddei—a musician, a member of the French Academy, and an administrator who had previously run Radio France and the French music conservatories—took over the Marmottan in late 2007. Cogeval was appointed to the Orsay just a few months later.
“Before we had even begun,” Taddei says, “he told me about his plans for a Monet exhibition. I immediately told him I was planning to do the same thing. He said I should give up. I replied that I didn’t understand. He called the Marmottan a provincial museum and said, ‘It would be like David against Goliath.’ So I said that sometimes David wins, and I left.”
When the Orsay and the French museums agency formally requested the loan of 17 works from the Marmottan, including Impression, Sunrise, Taddei resisted. “They wanted to divest us of all our most emblematic paintings—almost all of our Monets from the 1870s,” he says.
“If we had accepted, what would we have left?” Taddei asks. “We wouldn’t have anything for our exhibition.” A second request from the Musée d’Orsay reduced the loan list to just five paintings, including Impression, Sunrise, but that request, too, was rejected.
Taddei stresses that a committee approves loans. He says that he would like to see the two exhibitions as complementing each other, not competing. He insists that he has no grudge against the Orsay, and that the Marmottan has lent works to the Orsay in the past.
But Taddei says he is disappointed that he could not work with the Musée d’Orsay and the Grand Palais to create a citywide Monet extravaganza, which would have included a single ticket to both museums and perhaps to the Orangerie as well, which houses Monet’s famous water lily paintings. He says the idea was rejected by Cogeval.
Cogeval, who refused to comment to ARTnews, was widely quoted in the French press as calling the Marmottan a “provincial museum.”
Laurie Hurwitz is the Paris correspondent for ARTnews.