Light in the Desert: Monet at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

There is no place like Las Vegas: it is ostentatious, absurd, wasteful, unapologetic, remarkable, spectacular, surreal. To my complete surprise, I enjoy it immensely. A good thing, too–I now have family there.

A Las Vegas sidewalk

Two places, neither a typical Las Vegas fair, are always on my menu: the breathtaking Red Rock Canyon (best visited at dawn or dusk) and Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art, a small space that somehow always manages to stun. My day today began on a chaotic note, so it’s the gallery I think of now, with its quiet, cool, mostly empty rooms.

It has the makings of a stuffy, inconsequential place–but, thankfully, these first impressions never persist. The exhibits I’ve seen here over the years have been thoughtful, always better than expected, and invariably surprising, delightful.

Monet Exhibit, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, Las Vegas The current offering, on view until 6 January 2013, is the perfect example–Claude Monet: Impressions of Light. It did not sound especially stirring, and the ads with hay stacks, cityscapes, fields, and foggy rivers did not thrill as previews. They were–gently familiar.

In this small space, though, they became a treat. There were several instantly recognizable pieces, all drawn from the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, but the highlights for me were the images I’ve never seen before. “Lesser works,” afterthoughts drawn on holidays, perhaps, but curious in their not-entirely-typical-ness, with echos of Corot early on and, in later works, glimpses, mere hints, really, of Seurat, Cezanne, and even van Gogh yet to come. I have never seen this communion quite so clearly before.

To my surprise, I fell in love with this painting, Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter 1875 (from the MFA site):

object image

Would I even notice it at the Met or the National Gallery? Here, I was transfixed–the light of it (reproductions can’t capture it), the quiet of the winter sky; it made me taste a morning from my childhood. I was completely drawn in.

The exhibit, 20 paintings in all, is bite-sized, just right for a quick break from the Las Vegas un-reality. $15 ($10 for students and $12 for locals) get you an audio tour that added context (and the music was lovely). I felt utterly at leisure and at peace, indulged, in the end, in the best Las Vegas fashion.

Elsewhere in Bellagio (at the Botanical Gardens, a rotating menagerie of flower sculptures), one of the paintings is redone in blooms, undried, probably replaced regularly–a necessity, that.

Monet in Flowers, Bellagio Conservatory, Las Vegas

Monet at Bellagio, Las Vegas

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