Exhibition curator Emma Roodhouse discusses how the idea of Landscape Rebels was born and how two paintings by Monet became part of the exhibition.

The Landscape Rebels exhibition was inspired by the 1806 oil painting of Walton Bridges by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). The artwork was saved for the nation in 2019 through funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Art Fund and a private donor. This painting became the first major oil painting by Turner in the East of England and is owned by Norfolk Museums Service, who in partnership with Colchester + Ipswich Museums have been involved in making the painting accessible through a variety of exhibitions in Colchester, Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Norwich.

Before it was Ipswich’s turn to host the painting there were long discussions about how the artwork would be displayed, the themes and stories represented in the painting, and who Turner was. Ipswich has a significant collection of art by one of Turner’s contemporaries, Suffolk-born artist John Constable (1776-1837), and it would’ve been easy to fall back on displaying a Turner vs Constable exhibition. But I was aware that what united both artists was their ability to rebel against tradition, the connection to landscape and observations of life. An idea started to form about an exhibition that would look at the rebellious side of Turner and Constable, and help to breakdown perceptions of traditional landscape painting.

The ‘Landscape’ is a major theme of Walton Bridges, and it seemed unconscionable to me that we would have an exhibition focused on landscape and not engage in issues around our changing environment. This presented the opportunity to look across all Ipswich’s collections from world cultures, costume, social history, natural sciences and search out depictions of our world, as well as how people and animals have adapted to different environments and found creative solutions to our ecological changes.

The Landscape Rebels exhibition idea was born.

The Thames below Westminster by Claude Monet (about 1871, Oil on canvas) © The National Gallery

So how did Monet end up at the Mansion?

Both Turner and Constable rebelled from the traditional idea of classical landscapes having to be painted inside the studio to a more unconventional reflection of the landscape and direct observation of nature. The 1806 Walton Bridges is a very early example of the artist painting outdoors.

This approach to art would go on to inspire the Impressionists and including art by Claude Monet (1840-1926), founder of this movement, in the exhibition would be central to exploring this influence. It would also be the first time that Ipswich had a display of significant artists Turner, Constable and Monet in one exhibition.

Oscar Claude Monet was born in Paris and is one of the most well-known figures of the French Impressionist movement. The word “Impressionism” comes from a title of his painting Impression, soleil levant, exhibited in 1874 alongside his friends and work by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Ipswich Borough has an impressive collection of art by French artists and Camille Pissarro, the father of the movement, is represented as well as his son, Lucille Pissarro. Both can be seen in Landscape Rebels.

Flood Waters by Claude Monet (1896, Oil on canvas) © The National Gallery

Fortunately, The National Gallery very kindly supported our loan request for two paintings by Claude Monet to include in Landscape Rebels. I am very thankful to Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post 1800 Paintings, for all his advice and guidance. The two paintings on display are The Thames below Westminster (about 1871, Oil on canvas (NG6399)), which reflected the polluted and smoke-filled city of London and Flood Waters (1896, Oil on canvas (NG6278)), which demonstrates how heavy rainfall changes the landscape. If you would like to see the only exhibition to include Monet paintings alongside a Pangolin, then do come and visit Landscape Rebels.

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life- the air and the light, which vary continually…” Monet, 1891