Narrator 1: 6–9. Water Lilies, painted 1914–26 by the French artist Claude Monet, 1840–1926. Oil on canvas. Three panels, each panel 6 feet high by fourteen feet wide . 200 cm by 425 cm.
Narrator 2: The scale of these three huge paintings allows one not just to look at them but rather to immerse oneself in them. Water Lilies was painted late in Monet’s career, at a time when his work had become increasingly abstract. This may have been a result of his failing eyesight. He had a cataract operation just a couple of years after these paintings were completed.
Each of the canvasses is completely devoted to water – the edge of the pond is never shown. It’s a mysterious, shifting world. Nothing is clearly defined. The paintings are made up of blurry, merging brushstrokes, forming an abstract mist of color. In the darker areas of the canvas, where the water seems to be in shadow, it has the cool green depth of a pine forest. Lighter areas reflect back the sky in the gleaming blues and greens of a peacock’s tail. There are also vast, dancing surfaces of reflected sunlight, daubed onto the canvas in chaotic patches of creamy paint. Clusters of green floating lily–pads fill large portions of the pond. And flecks of pink, lilac and yellow on the pads convey the water–lilies themselves.
These paintings are a celebration of Monet’s lifelong devotion to the effects of light. The result is as much a meditation in paint as it is a visual record of Monet’s own garden and pond.
Narrator 1: To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 5–3–9.