The Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899) by Claude Monet
Interpretation of Giverny Impressionist Landscape Painting

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Water Lily Pond (1899)
(Green Harmony)
By Claude Monet.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Modern Paintings of
the nineteenth century.

The Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris


Explanation of Other Paintings by Monet


Name: Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899)
Artist: Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Impressionist landscape painting
Movement: French Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris

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

To appreciate modern art
created by Impressionists
like Claude Monet, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of The Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony

Claude Monet was the driving force behind the radical group of modern artists who became known as the 'Impressionists'. Influenced by Eugene Boudin (1824-98) and Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), Monet himself came to specialize in plein-air painting, in order to capture the momentary effects of light and colour. Other Impressionists who focused on outdoor work included Pissarro (1830-1903), Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and Renoir (1841-1919).

During the last thirty years of his life the Impressionist Claude Monet devoted himself to a series of famous landscape paintings of his water gardens at Giverny. Among these Water Lilies paintings (1897-1926) was a smaller series of eighteen views of the wooden Japanese footbridge over his pond, which he began in 1899. Four of the best-known of these Impressionist paintings include: The Japanese Footbridge (1899, National Gallery of Australia); Bridge over a Pond of Waterlilies (1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); The Water-Lily Pond (1899, National Gallery, London); and the present work at the Musee d'Orsay.

This landscape painting was done at Giverny more than fifteen years after the Impressionist group had started to drift apart - for more on this, see: Impressionist Group Splits Up (1882) - but only some five years since he had begun - with the help of six gardners - to construct his water garden. Even so, by 1899, the garden along with the adjoining meadow and pond, had been transformed into an aquatic paradise filled with willows, irises and water lilies imported from Japan. One of the gardeners was employed specifically to maintain the plants in such a way as to suit Monet's painting.

This quiet reflective painting of the lily pond was one of twelve views, each painted from the same vantage point in 1899, which Monet exhibited the following year at the Paris gallery owned by Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). (See: Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris (1874-86) for more details about the early shows.) With its dappled sunlight, and its orchestration of colour, tone and texture, it exemplifies Monet's en-plein-air approach to painting, in which he expresses his sensations as well as his observations. As usual, numerous short rapid brushstrokes and touches or dabs of pure paint (known as 'taches') have been used to create the water's flower-laden surface, a technique made easier by the invention of the flat, square, ferrule paintbrush, as opposed to the round brush. In order to indicate the textures and shapes of the foliage, paint has been applied layer on layer with a palette knife, until a thick crust is formed. The graceful curve of the Japanese footbridge bisects the painting, its mauve lines - tracked by green - harmonizing easily with the pond surface below and the green foliage above right. (Note: For more about the Impressionist style, see: Characteristics of Impressionism: 1870-1920.)

Admitting as early as 1901 to his obsession with painting the water garden, Monet would visit it at least three times a day to study the changing light, recording the details in his notebooks. He continued to paint his lily pond until he died, his compositions growing ever larger and more abstract. Indeed, in his last series, he ignores the banks and bridge entirely, and focuses exclusively on the surface of the water, creating a number of abstract paintings filled with watery colours and light. Hailed as a new style of abstract art, these works were studied closely in the 1940s by artists associated with all-over abstract expressionist painting, including Jackson Pollock (1912-56).

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 major work, but rejected by the Salon jury.

La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Glorious outdoor canvas by Monet, who often painted alongside Renoir.

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Illustrates the Impressionist style of everyday landscape painting.

Impression: Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan, Paris.
The picture whose name was used by Louis Leroy to christen the new movement.

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

The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford CT.
Masterly oil sketch of his wife Camille and friend at the beach.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist pictures, see: Homepage.

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