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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Blue Water Lilies” by Claude Monet (Musée d’Orsay)

Claude Monet - Blue Water Lilies

“Blue Water Lilies” by Claude Monet

“Blue Water Lilies” by Claude Monet depicts his water-lily pond, from his garden in Giverny. Monet grew water lilies in his water garden and from the 1910s until he died in 1926, the garden and its pond became the artist’s main inspiration. Monet claimed:

“Apart from painting and gardening, I am good for nothing. My greatest masterpiece is my garden.”

In this version of “Water Lilies,” Monet focused on a small area of the pond, to the exclusion of sky or boundaries. The square canvas reinforces the neutrality of the composition and the impression of a shapeless surface.  Monet’s brushstrokes are free and detached in an imaginative and beautiful abstraction.

Claude Monet painted nearly 250 paintings in his series of “Water Lilies.” Monet painted many of his later works while suffering from cataracts.

Water Lilies

Nymphaea is the botanical name for a water lily. The genus name is from the Greek and the Latin nymphaea, which means “water lily” and was inspired by the nymphs of Greek mythology. Many species are cultivated as ornamental plants, and many varieties have been bred.

The ancient Egyptians revered the Nile water lilies, which were known as lotuses. The lotus motif is a common feature of temple column architecture. In Egypt, the lotus, rising from the bottom mud to unfold its petals to the sun, suggested the glory of the sun’s emergence from the primeval slime. It was a symbol of the fertility gods and goddesses.

Monet’s Garden in Giverny

Monet initially rented and eventually purchased his house and gardens in Giverny. As Monet’s wealth grew, his garden evolved. He remained its architect and eventually hired seven gardeners. Monet wrote daily instructions to his gardeners with precise designs and layouts for plantings. Monet also purchased even more land with a water meadow. In 1893 he began a large landscaping project which included lily ponds. White water lilies local to France were planted along with imported cultivars from South America and Egypt. His efforts resulted in a range of colors, including yellow, blue, and white lilies that turned pink with age. In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, first with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in a series of large-scale paintings that occupied him continuously for the next 20 years of his life.

Explore the “Water Lilies” Series

Oscar-Claude Monet

Oscar-Claude Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, “soleil levant” or “Impression, Sunrise,” which was exhibited in 1874. Monet adopted a method of painting in which he painted the same scene many times to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. Monet is known for having produced a series of paintings all versions of the same subject and perspective. Examples include his series of the “Valley of the Creuse” series and his famous series of “Haystacks” and “Water Lilies” paintings.

From 1883 Monet lived in Giverny, where at his home, he developed a garden landscape which included the lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works. In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, first with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings, with the water lilies as the main feature. This series occupied him for the last 20 years of his life.

Reflections

  • How many “Water Lilies” paintings have you seen?
  • What do you call an artist who painted one subject, 250 times?
  • An artist who persists into his mid 80’s to work and create, while suffering from cataracts?

Exploring Monet

Blue Water Lilies

  • Title:            Blue Water Lilies
  • Artist:           Claude Monet
  • Year:            1916 – 1919
  • Medium:      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: Height: 2,000 mm (78.74 ″); Width: 2,000 mm (78.74 ″)
  • Museum:       Musée d’Orsay

Claude Monet

Claude Monet – Interesting Facts

  • Monet was Paris-born but was raised on the Normandy Coast.
  • Monet began drawing as a young boy, sketching his teachers and neighbors.
  • Monet had an estranged relationship with his father. His father did not support his artistic passion and was unwilling to help him financially.
  • In 1858, Monet met Eugène Boudin. Boudin became his mentor and encouraged him to paint “en plain air.”
  • In 1861, Monet was drafted into the army and join the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry, he served in Algeria, a territory that was then controlled by France.
  • Monet lived in Argenteuil from 1871 to 1878, where he was drawn to the natural beauty, and he painted 170 canvases during his time in Argenteuil.
  • For the year of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Monet painted the Argenteuil Bridge seven times.
  • Japanese art fascinated Monet, attending a Japanese exhibition in the 1890s. He amassed a collection of more than 200 Japanese prints over the years.
  • France’s traditional art institutions were not fans of the Monet’s style. The saw his style as “casual” and “incomplete.”
  • His style focused on perception, capturing outdoor scenes by using rapid brush strokes.
  • In his late 20s, Monet was depressed and struggling to support himself and his family financially, Monet jumped off a bridge in 1868. Fortunately, he survived his fall.
  • Monet destroyed hundreds of his works due to bouts of frustration and self-doubt.
  • Monet was baptized Catholic, but he went on to become an atheist.
  • Monet disliked traditional art schools. So he became a student of Swiss artist Charles Gleyre. It was here that Monet met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley.
  • With the younger artists,  Monet explored new approaches to art like distinctive brush strokes and accurate depiction of light and unusual visual angles.
  • Outdoor painting was critical in developing his style. He created a series of pictures where he explored the effects of rain, mist, smoke, and steam on landscapes and objects.
  • The term “Impressionism” was used as a derogatory label in a critical review of artists who used the Impressionists style. The term was borrowed from Monet’s painting title called “Impression: Sunrise.”
  • Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the subject.
  • In his most famous series of twenty-six views of Rouen Cathedral, he broke tradition and cropped the Cathedral views, so that only a portion of the facade is seen on the canvas.
  • Monet’s favorite model was his first wife, Camille Doncieux. She appeared in around 32 paintings.
  • Monet’s second wife, Alice Hoschedé, was irrationally jealous of his first wife who had died.
  • Monet suffered from cataracts in his later years.
  • In 1883, Monet moved to the small village in Giverny and spent ten years building the water garden where he painted perhaps his most famous works.
  • As Monet’s garden expanded, he hired six gardeners to tend to it.
  • One gardener’s job was to paddle a boat onto the pond each morning, washing and dusting each lily pad.
  • Monet’s series of Water Lilies consists of about 250 oil paintings which were painted during the last thirty years of his life.
  • Monet’s famous Japanese bridge over his Giverny pond remains to this day at his home in Giverny.
  • For the last 25 years of his life, Monet painted the water lilies in a series of paintings that water lilies in different light and textures.
  • In 1926, Monet died of lung cancer, at the age of 86.
  • Monet is buried in the Giverny church cemetery.
  • In 1980, his former home in Giverny was opened to tourists to see his gardens, woodcut prints, and souvenirs.
  • Monet’s Giverny garden, bedroom, studio, and blue sitting-room are open for tours.

Explore the Musée d’Orsay

~~~

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
– Claude Monet

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Photo Credit: 1) Claude Monet [Public domain]

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