American painter Alex Katz reinvents Monet’s water lilies at the Orangerie

American painter Alex Katz reinvents Monet’s water lilies at the Orangerie
Alex Katz, Homage to Monet 5.
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The American figurative painter Alex Katz first saw Monet’s water-lily paintings for around 1965, at Paris’ Musée de l’Orangerie. But although since the 1950s, he has been making gorgeous paintings of the landscape surrounding his atelier in Maine, for a long while the artist resisted painting images of a lily-pond near his summer home in Maine. “I’ve been looking at them for 50 years,” says the 92-year-old painter, “but I never touched them because of Monet. I feel pretty good about them now, but at first I only saw Monet’s lilies and I couldn’t figure out how to do them. But I said, you’re going to do it, and I just did it.”

Through September 2, Katz’s homage to Monet, a sequence of lustrous, deftly painted images is shown in the new contemporary art room of the museum housing Monet’s iconic series, in the framework of a new program. In his delicate, luminous canvases, strongly influenced by Japanese prints, everything is reduced to simple shapes. Vibrant gold-yellow spangles flickering like spots of sunlight against the inky blue-gray darkness. Natural light in Maine, the artist once said, “is richer and darker than the light in Impressionist paintings; it helped me separate myself from European painting and find my own eyes.”

While they appear simple, they are in fact are carefully prepared and extremely subtle. Katz makes small studies from life, then scales them up using a traditional charcoal cartoon and pinhole “pouncing” method onto his large-scale canvases, then repainting them. Katz paints wet-in-wet and executes his images in one go, which gives them a sense of immediacy; these flat, patchy images, precise, with broad areas of color and virtuoso brushwork, recall the works of Fairfield Porter or Milton Avery, and evoke something strangely ethereal.

The museum’s “Contemporary Counterpoints” exhibitions, inaugurated in the permanent collection, autumn 2018, are strengthened by the programme “Dance among the water lilies,” monthly performances launched in June 2018, and a weekly series, “Une oeuvre, un regard,” which shares the vision of a contemporary figure: an artist, a writer, a philosopher, a designer, a musician, an actor, a film or theatre director, or a scientist, on a piece chosen from the permanent collection.