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Shelley’s Art Musings – Claude Monet

Water Lilies (1918) Musee Orangerie

The 11th November is Armistice Day, and this year marks 100 years of this monumental date, but did you know that Monet presented “Water Lilies” to the state as a monument of peace. This was done by writing to the Prime Minister and his friend George Clemenceau. The pair had been friends for over 30 years, and in Monet’s letter he wrote:

“I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.”

On November 14th this year, the Musee Orangerie will be holding an exhibition which will honour this act, where you can see this exquisite piece line the walls.  The exhibition will run into March 2019, if you want to find out more about the exhibition and how to get tickets you can find the out here.

“Water Lilies” was a piece which was a groundbreaking masterpiece, as the piece covers 100 linear meters in on the walls of the museum, encompassing its audience in a view of placid waters, water lilies and reflections of clouds, broken up by willow branches.  The inspiration for the piece was from the gardens of Monet’s home in Giverny.

Monet and his large family rented a house with 2 acres of land, and 7 years later, his success as a painter afforded him to purchase the house, gardens and surrounding buildings. He created studios and workspaces as well as greenhouses and gave his gardener daily written instructions on the specification of what he wanted to be planted in the garden and the architecture of it.

3 years after the purchase of the house, Monet purchased additional land and undertook a project in landscaping the area with ponds and planted water lilies which would form the basis of this inspiring work.

Monet (right) in his garden- New York Times 1922

Up to this point, Monet had a varied life and had already lost one wife, Camille, of whom Monet had completed studies of on her deathbed. He later married Alice.

By this time Monet had shunned his learning’s in traditional painting styles and shared new styles and techniques which concentrated on the effects of light on the surroundings and used rapid, short brush strokes and broken colours to present a different style which is now known as Impressionism.

Impressionism was not to identify the subject in minute detail, but to demonstrate the light and movement over time, and Monet perfected this technique. His paintings are visually stunning and packed full of the feeling of the fluidity of nature.

There are versions of Water Lilies, which can be seen in museums around the world, but the Musee Orangerie had special rooms created to house the gift to the state.

The piece is comprised of almost 300 paintings, over 40 of which were large format. Two types of composition were defined by the artist at the beginning of the cycle. The first includes the edge of the pond and its dense vegetation; the second, in contrast, plays on the emptiness and includes only the surface of the water with flowers and reflections interspersed.  As this was created towards the end of Monet’s life he was suffering from cataracts, and it wasn’t hung until a few weeks after his death.

In 1952 André Masson published an article comparing the rooms of the Orangerie to “the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”, and it is easy to forget that at time of creation, Monet’s style and technique were ahead of his time.

I urge you if you are in the vicinity of the Musee Orangerie to take the time out and go and view this extraordinary piece.  Examine the composition and take in calm atmosphere that this painting creates.  Reveal in the beauty of the impression of Monet’s gardens and rejoice in the peacefulness of nature, knowing that it is all a cycle.

Figures in the Sun” by Claude Monet, 1888. Oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

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