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“Monet and the Seine” Brings an Icy Wonderland to Houston January 2, 2015

The Houston climate doesn't offer "winter wonderland" views very often, but this year we can enjoy some extra icy shades of winter in Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River.

Claude Monet painted scenes of his beloved Seine River at every season, including the winter of 1879, one of the coldest France endured during the entire century. Frozen waterways and heavy snowfalls disrupted daily life, but Monet was enchanted. He set up his easel—and a coal-heated stove for warmth—along the Seine and proceeded to capture the glistening winter landscape.

When the Seine began to thaw, the frozen river broke into massive ice floes that hurtled downstream with such force that the noise awakened and terrified nearby residents. Monet’s reaction? He’d “make something” of the natural catastrophe. He created 20 superb canvases, several of which you can see in this exhibition and the accompanying illustrated catalogue. Some highlights:

  • The Breakup of the Ice Monet found this dramatic landscape, born out of violence with its watery beauty and exquisite gray-blue tonality, irresistible.
  • The Ice Floes (Les Glaçons) This magnificently large canvas (nearly 5 feet wide) is the culmination of Monet’s paintings of the ice floes on the frozen Seine.
  • Winter Sun, Lavacourt The small sun barely warms the bare trees and whitish-blue fields, virtually indistinguishable from the river.
  • The Thaw at Vétheuil In this particularly powerful painting, Monet’s treatment of the ice floes in the foreground looks ahead to his famous Water Lilies.
  • Ice Floes Monet revisited his icy theme when the Seine froze again during the winter of 1892, as seen in this depiction of the river’s surface, glassy and mirrorlike—a reminder of Monet’s passion for its reflective qualities.

In addition to these winter scenes, Monet and the Seine features nearly 50 other examples of the busy, ever-changing French waterway that fascinated the artist throughout his life. Also included are cityscapes, scenes of commerce and leisure activities, and ethereal paintings from Monet’s famous “Mornings on the Seine” series. The exhibition is on view through February 1.