Claude Monet, Vase of Flowers
Claude Monet, Vase of Flowers, c.1881-82
 

I sat facing Claude Monet's Vase of Flowers at the dinner party that the Institute held for the Getty Trustees in October 1983. The Trustees were staying at Claridges and had never met before outside California. I had then just been pressed into chairing the Executive Committee for the Appeal to raise the funds for the Institute to move from 20 Portman Square to the north block of Somerset House; a daunting task, but a challenge that I looked forward to. The dinner was a grand occasion indeed, and a selection of the French Impressionists had been brought from the gallery in Woburn Square to adorn the walls of the reception rooms in Home House for this dinner party. The picture captivated me with its careless display of mallow flowers and its impressionistic colouring. I love flowers and I love food, and the dinner was a happy and splendid augury for the adventure that the Institute was about to undertake, and which I felt then that Samuel Courtauld would have approved of because it would bring the pictures back to the Institute again.

I learned later that the Vase is one of Monet's last still lifes, and although he painted it in 1881-2 he did not complete it until the end of his life and signed and sold it in 1920. His letters tell us that he had great difficulty with his large flower paintings of this period and he went back thankfully to landscapes when he was able to sell them. You can see how he is trying to break away from the then structured convention of still life painting with the daubs and dashes of colours. The painting had been with two dealers and Samuel Courtauld bought it in 1923. The canvas appears in photographs of the interior of Monet's house at Giverny. It is an arrangement of flowers that I can imagine in the centre of the table at the entrance of a Restaurant in France, and for me it evokes the delights of the meal to come.

It seems entirely appropriate that later Monet stayed regularly at The Savoy, and painted his views of the river, the bridges and the Houses of Parliament from his corner suite there. He must have enjoyed the culinary skills of Escoffier. It is perhaps sad that he could not have dreamed that some of his greatest paintings would eventually be hung in the neighbouring Somerset House a short way down the river. Long may they hang close to the Thames which Monet obviously loved nearly as much as his own garden at Giverny on the Seine.

Morton Neal