Harvey J. Graff: A waste of Monet

January 28, 2014 

Claude Monet, The Cliff, tretat, Sunset, 1882-1883, oil on canvas

COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA MUSEUM OF ART

I write with questions about the Jan. 25 news article “Team pinpoints time in Monet’s work.” Are the astronomer, the conservator and the reporter not aware that “The Cliff, Etretat: Sunset” is a painting and not a photograph? They are not using it appropriately as a piece of evidence.

Are they not aware that Impressionism as a style or genre of artistic expression is not the same as realism? It was named “impressionism” and its practitioners “impressionists” for good reasons. The associate conservator’s opposition of “something real and immediate, rather than something artificial” is profoundly misleading and anathema to the art.

But what is the point of this “scientific” exercise? It does not enhance our understanding of Monet, this painting or Impressionism. Given the nature of instruments and measurements in the 1880s, Donald Olson’s attempt to time the painting to a specific minute is ridiculous. Does he also think that Monet painted the work in that minute, too?

Neither art nor science is advanced by such exercises. Is the second-hand promotion of the N.C. Museum of Art the real object of this story?

Harvey J. Graff

Durham

The writer, a professor of English and history at Ohio State University, is a current fellow of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park.

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