Water-Lilies by Claude Monet at the National Gallery, London

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at the 1916 ‘Water-Lilies’ by Claude Monet at the National Gallery, London. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

Water Lilies comprises approximately 250 oil paintings by the French Impressionist Claude Monet who was born November 14th, 1840 in Paris, France and died December 5th, 1926.

These paintings depict his flower garden at his residence in Giverny and were the primary focus of his artistic production during the final three decades of his life. Many of these works were executed while Monet was contending with cataracts which severely affected his vision. In 1916, Monet constructed a new studio at his residence in Giverny to work on large canvases portraying his water-lily pond, each exceeding two meters in height. The intention was for these monumental paintings to form a cohesive decorative scheme. Subsequently, he donated 22 of them to the French state post-World War I, and they are currently housed in two oval rooms in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. The remaining large-scale water-lily canvases, including this one, remained in Giverny but only until after World War II. It was during the 1920s that the French state established two oval rooms at the Orangerie to serve as a permanent exhibition space for eight water lily murals by Monet. This exhibition opened to the public on May 16, 1927, a few months after Monet’s death. In 1999, a special exhibition at the Orangerie brought together sixty water lily paintings from around the world which would have been an incredible sight!

The Orangerie canvases are characterized by recognizable details of trees and foliage, serving as compositional anchors that assist in orienting the viewer. However, this particular painting seems to deviate from this convention. It lacks these recognizable details, eradicating notions of distance and perspective, and presents a limitless expanse of water that dominates the entire field of vision. The expansive, pale canvas provides an immersive experience, its surface animated with trails of green, violet, yellow, sky blue, and pink.

These Impressionist paintings are prominently displayed in museums globally today and hold a significant impact when viewed in person, surpassing the portrayal in video or photographs. The substantial size of these works contributes to their appeal, creating an impressive aspect of their artistic magnetism.

By Anthony King (c)