Exhibition review: Monet in Paris, Le Grand Palais

Following the success of Van Gogh Alive, another fully immersive exhibition of 19th century French Masters has started its tour.

Following on from the world-class exhibition Van Gogh Alive that toured to over 50 cities around the world and was viewed by six million people, Monet in Paris makes its global debut in Brisbane, giving punters a first look at an international blockbuster.

Le Grand Palais, which houses the exhibition, reinvents the concept of an art gallery by making it a 360-degree fully immersive experience. The theatrical entrance is a Willy Wonka-esque style of Paris, complete with Moulin Rouge windmill and Parisian-themed café. It sets the tone that this is no ordinary art exhibition.

It’s not Musée d’Orsay on Brisbane’s Northshore – the only similarity is that both venues are located on riverbanks. Here, the artworks have been transposed from the River Seine to the Brisbane River, for a 45-minute choreographed digital spectacle of great artworks set to classical music. 

The viewer is encouraged to walk freely around the space taking in the art that’s projected on towering seven-metre high walls. No one stays too long on one painting; it suits our ever shortening attention spans to zoom in and out, lingering perhaps on certain details that capture our attention. In fact, it is easy to watch the entire sequence a second time, and be more conscious of the brushstrokes the second time round.

The experience is like taking a deep dive into Instagram, where someone is doing the scrolling for you. Don’t let this deter you though. In a lot of ways, the screens make the viewing of the piece more intimate by immersing the viewer in the world of the artist. You feel onstage with Degas’ ballerinas, and in the audience at the Moulin Rouge with Toulouse-Lautrec.

Because it’s not just Monet in Paris, it’s his Impressionist friends too. Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt are just some that also have their artwork displayed on the screens.

Despite it being a modern immersive experience, the installation somehow captures both the calmness of an art gallery and the stirring emotions of a silent film. As your feet wade in a projected pond, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ plays, while Monet’s Water Lilies dance around the walls.

The exhibition has very few benches to sit on, which encourages visitors to walk around the room, yet many sit on the floor to take in the experience.

Nature is an overarching theme in these works, and quotes from Monet’s diaries, as well as from his friends, offer us a glimpse into how in awe of the world these artists were, and how privileged they felt to be able to capture nature in this way. 

Screens have taken over our lives, and although we can see the paintings in crystal clear detail, on a massive scale compared to the original, it raises the question of how art should be viewed these days.

In galleries around the world, many masterpieces are hidden away from public view. Is this digital spectacular the modern way of viewing old art?

Read: Installation review, GOOD NIGHT: Özgür Kar, Art Gallery of WA

To be in nature is the feeling that lingers, to run outside to the Brisbane River and take in all the light and surrounding colour. That may not be the intention of the exhibition, but it leaves a lasting impression, reminding us that life cannot be captured in a single painting, and stepping outside you may find that the world around you is much more impressive than scrolling images on a screen.

Monet in Paris – The French Impressionists Alive
Le Grand Palais
Northshore, Brisbane
Monet in Paris will be exhibited until 6 August 2023 in Brisbane before touring across Australia.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.