SALT LAKE CITY — Though many artists hated the damp fog of London, French painter Claude Monet warmly embraced it in his 1902 work “Charing Cross Bridge.”
“Because London was a very industrialized city, it was prone to wretched fog,” said Luke Kelly, antiquities curator for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, during a pre-opening tour of UMFA’s newest exhibit. “It befuddled many artists, but Monet absolutely loved it, and he celebrates the fog and makes it the main subject here.”
“Charing Cross Bridge” is one of two paintings by Monet in “The British Passion for Landscape: Masterpieces from National Museum Wales,” which opened Saturday at UMFA and will be on display through Dec. 13. UMFA is the third of four U.S. museums scheduled to host the exhibit, which was created through a partnership between National Museum Wales and the American Federation of Arts.
Curated by Oliver Fairclough, keeper of art at National Museum Wales, and Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, “The British Passion for Landscape” explores the development and continuation of the landscape tradition in England, Kelly said.
“They took 63 objects from the National Museum Wales representing 53 artists, spanning the time from the 1660s to 1999, and through six themes, roughly chronological, they put together the story of the development of the English landscape tradition, which has become a quintessential British art genre.
“It begins roughly around the time of the Industrial Revolution, where a transformation is happening all over the English landscape. Industries, mines are now starting to dot the landscape. It then takes visitors through the ‘isms’: romanticism, impressionism, modernism, and through to post-modern and (post-)industrial imagery of our current, contemporary world.”
Among the artists whose works are featured are Monet, Joseph Mallord William Turner, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Wilson.
UMFA executive director Gretchen Dietrich said this is the first time any of Monet’s work has been on public display in Utah since 2008, and that this exhibition is the first to bring the work of Turner and Constable to Utah.
“Turner and Constable … these are artists who really fundamentally shaped what a landscape is and can be, in the history of art,” Dietrich said.
“… All art is wonderful art, especially if it’s smart and thoughtful and beautifully executed,” she added. “But to bring in works of art of this quality and to share those with our community and allow people to talk and to have conversation in front of such incredible works of art is something that really excites us.”
Kelly said the influence of the work of early landscape artists, such as Claude Gellee in the 17th century and Wilson in the 18th with their “idealized, imagined landscapes,” can be seen in the works of artists such as Constable and Turner.
But Kelly also emphasized that while many of the artists drew inspiration from the works of others, they also remained aware of what was going on in their day and bringing that to light. He said one such example of this can be seen in Lionel Walden’s late-19th-century oil painting “Steelworks, Cardiff, at Night.”
“Lionel Walden, here, takes an industrial landscape and gives it a new sense of beauty,” Kelly said. “Barely perceptible against this black and red industrial industry of the Cardiff Steelworks, you can barely make out a figure just holding a little lantern. … The steelworks represents a new change and evolution, but he brings to it a new sense: the beautiful, picturesque and even the sublime.”
Kelly said a wonderful thing about the exhibit is that its variety allows for a “unique visitor experience.”
“What are you in the mood for?” he said. “Are you in the mood for the calm, serene pastoral landscape of Claude Gellee or Richard Wilson? Or do you want to come to the frantic, hectic pace of the urban industrial? You have your choice.”
Lending additional context to the landscape tradition and also on display at UMFA is the exhibit “Constructing the Utah Landscape,” which features works from the museum’s permanent collection and “guides visitors of all ages in a hands-on exploration of landscape technique,” according to a news release.
If you go ...
What: “The British Passion for Landscape: Masterpieces from National Museum Wales”
When: Through Dec. 13; museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; closed Mondays and holidays
Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City
How much: $14 for adults; $12 for youths ages 6-18 and seniors; free for UMFA members, Utah public higher education students, children under 6 and military families; admission is free to everyone the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month, and $5 after 5 p.m. on all other Wednesdays
Note: Free public programming events, including a craft for families, a screening of “Mr. Turner” and a talk with curator Tim Barringer, are scheduled throughout the exhibition. More information is available at UMFA’s website.