Water Lilies Paintings (1897-1926) by Claude Monet
Explanation of Impressionist Landscapes of Giverny Water Gardens

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"Nympheas" (1915)
Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
By Claude Monet.
A beautiful example of his
Impressionist landscape painting.

Water Lilies (Nymphéas) (1897-1926)

Water Lilies (1916) National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.
One of 250 water lily paintings created by Monet at Giverny.
Ranked among the greatest 20th century paintings.


Most Famous Water Lily Paintings
Explanation of Other Paintings by Monet


Name: Series of Paintings of Water Lilies (Nymphéas) (1897-1926)
Artist: Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Landscape painting
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Musee de l'Orangerie, Musee Marmottan-Monet, Musee d'Orsay, in Paris; and major art museums worldwide.

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


Analysis of Monet's Paintings of Water Lilies at Giverny

The Impressionist paintings of water lilies (nymphéas) created by Claude Monet during the last thirty years of his life, are often considered by art critics to represent his finest work. They demonstrate his extraordinary skill at plein-air painting, his feeling for colour and appreciation of light.

In 1883 he rented a house at Giverny, fifty miles from Paris. Seven years later he bought the house and shortly afterwards in 1893 purchased a meadow near the property which contained a pond fed by the Ru River, a branch of the Seine. He hired at least six gardeners who gradually shaped the meadow into a garden of willows, irises and water lilies specially imported from Japan.

He had an arched wooden 'Japanese' bridge built across a narrow part of the water garden, and he also had to control the flow of the River Ru to raise the temperature of the water to help the imported water lilies thrive. This caused a protest by the locals of Giverny, since they used the river for their washing and they believed that Monet's 'Japanese Garden' would pollute their water.

Monet painted the gardens around the house and then turned his attention to the water gardens, painting them repeatedly between 1897 and his death in 1926. In all, he produced more than 250 oil paintings of his lily ponds and his Japanese bridge, executed in different sunlight and at different times of the day.

Note: For more about the French Impressionist idiom, see: Characteristics of Impressionism: 1870-1920.

One of the gardeners was hired especially to maintain the lilies in such a way as to suit Monet's paintings, and - as early as 1901 - Monet admitted "These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession." This realization did not, however, deter him from pressing ahead, even when he began suffering from cataracts. In later years, this condition caused him to depend more and more on his step-daughter and daughter-in-law Blanche Hoschede Monet (1865-1947), who - from 1911 - took over the running of Giverny and its gardens. Monet finally had an operation in 1923, losing all sight in his right eye.

To facilitate his work he had a large studio built in his garden - measuring some 12 by 24 metres (40 by 80 feet) - which enabled him to paint his huge water lily canvases. Today, these monumental works of French painting are seen as some of the most important contributions to the development of modern art, and sell for anything up to $50 million. The paintings - see, for instance, "Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond" (1920, Museum of Modern Art, New York) - represent not just what was in front of Monet's eyes but also what he was feeling. Indeed, he sometimes combined into a single painting panels of different views that had been painted at different times in different lighting conditions.

These late water lily pictures combine Impressionism with Expressionism in almost equal measure, and verge on abstract art, as Monet's attempt to capture the constantly changing natural light and colour ends up dissolving all spatial cues. As he mingles water and sky, Monet creates a peaceful meditation within a flowering, watery surround. His focus on painting as a surface covered with paint, was taken up later after World War II, by practitioners of American Expressionism, notably Jackson Pollock (1912-56).

In the mid-1920s, the French government authorized the construction of a pair of oval-shaped rooms at the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris, as a permanent home for eight huge water lily mural paintings by Monet, including: "The Water Lilies, Clouds" (1920–1926); and "The Water Lilies, Setting Sun" (1920–1926). It opened to the public in May 1927, not long after Monet's death.

NOTE: In addition to Monet, the leading French painters associated with Impressionism include: Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Manet (1832-83), Degas (1834-1917), Cezanne (1839-1906), Alfred Sisley (1839-99), Berthe Morisot (1841-95), and Renoir (1841-1919).



Most Famous Water Lily Paintings

Here is a selection of Monet's most celebrated water lily compositions in public collections. (Note: "Nymphaea" is the botanical name for a water lily.)

- "Nympheas" (1897-8) Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- "Water Lilies" (1897-99) Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna.
- "Water Lily Pond" (1899) Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
- "Water Lilies" (1903) Dayton Art Institute.
- "Bassin des Nympheas" (1904) Denver Art Museum.
- "Water Lilies" (1905) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- "Water Lilies" (1906) Art Institute of Chicago.
- "Water Lilies" (1907) Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
- "Water Lilies" (1907) Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo.
- "Pond with Water Lilies" (1907) Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
- "Water Lilies" (1908) Fuji Art Museum, Tokyo.
- "Nympheas" (1914) National Gallery of Australia.
- "Nympheas" (1915) Musee Marmottan Monet.
- "Nympheas" (1915) Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
- "White and Yellow Water Lilies" (1915-17) Kunstmuseum Winterthur.
- "Water-Lily Pond" (1915-26) Chichu Art Museum, Japan.
- "Water Lilies" (1915-26) Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
- "Nympheas" (1916) Musee Marmottan Monet.
- "Water Lilies" (1916) National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.
- "Nympheas Reflets de Saule" (1916–19) Musee Marmottan Monet.
- "Blue Water Lilies" (1916-19) Musee d'Orsay.
- "Sea-Roses" (Yellow Nirwana) (1917) National Gallery, London.
- "The Water Lily Pond" (1917-19) Albertina, Vienna.
- "Water Lilies" (1917-19) Honolulu Museum of Art.
- "Water Lilies" (1919) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- "Water Lilies" (1922) Toledo Museum of Art.
- "Wisteria" (1925) Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag.

NOTE: For the full story behind French Impressionism and the artists who started it, please see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Explanation of Other Paintings by Monet

Women in the Garden (1866-7) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Monet's first significant success.

La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Typical outdoor canvas by Monet.

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Exemplifies the Impressionist approach to landscape painting.

Impression: Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan, Paris.
The painting whose name gave birth to the Impressionist movement.

Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Part of a series of the Paris train station by Monet.

The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford CT.
Brilliantly executed rapid oil painting of his wife and friend at the beach.

For an appreciation of famous landscapes by Impressionist painters like Claude Monet, see: How to Appreciate Paintings.


• For the meaning of other Impressionist landscape paintings, see: Homepage.

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