The water lilies was an series of approximately 250 oil paintings Claude Monet (1840-1926) produced late in his life while he was 74 till his death at 86 in his garden at Giverny, west of Paris along the Seine. Claude Monet was a impressionist. To illustrate, Louis Leroy, writing for the satirical journal Charivari, sized upon the tile of Monet’s painting IMPRESSION, SUNRISE while Monet exhibited his painting in Paris in 1874 (Marilyn 495). And this was the first time the term impression was used.
The impressionists were not focusing to recapture the actual appearance of physical things, but they were focusing to capture the fleeting light effects and atmosphere (495). Monet was a pure and extreme impressionist, and he spent his whole life trying to express the instantaneous impression of a fleeting moment in nature to his paintings and to capture the beauty of the optimal world. In his late life while he had a vision problem and unhealthy condition in the body, he spent most of his time and energy in his garden to study water lilies.
The passion Monet putted into the water lilies series of paintings verified the tenacious vitality of Monet and his love of art. The rest of the evaluation will be more based on the Water Lilies painting (1914–1917) in the Legion of Honor museum. This is a pure water landscape painting that describes simply some water lilies and lotus leaves on the surface of the water. There are no reflection of the clouds and the sun even on the surface of the water, and the water is just pure blue in color.
Similar to Chinese landscape painting, the audiences should first focus more on the artistic conception from the artist than the actual physical details of the painting. By looking at the beautiful and energetic water lilies flowing in the pure and clean water that is able to reflect the blue sky, the audiences can feel the theme of calm, relax and hopeful. People feel so comfortable just by staring at this water lilies painting. Claude Monet used heavy and weight brush works on the water to show the movement of the water and to make the landscape look more realistic to nature.
Moreover, if the audiences look more closely at the painting and carefully examine the directions of the brushworks of the water, they can w see the water is moving toward one direction, which is the top right of the painting. Furthermore, the audience can also see the color is the darkest on the bottom left of the picture plane such that there are some grasses locates on that part of the water. Then the color becomes lighter from the bottom to the top and the left to the right, so does the water become cleaner in the same direction. Eventually, the water is becoming pure enough on the top right to reflect an extreme light.
These two details emphasizes the audience can imagine the darker part that locates closer to the audience in the painting as some evil things that is happening right now and the light reflecting on the far top right as hope in the future. Hence, the audiences can receive the message from Monet of “stay calm and positive when there’re bad things happening right now because there’re hope in the future. ” Indeed, World War 1 was happening while Monet was composing the series of water lilies paintings in his little garden, and his feeling about the war was reflecting on his paintings.
For example, the Water Lilies (1914–1917) in the Toledo Museum of Art is extremely different from the one discussed above. There’re lots of grass on the painting and the audiences can hardly see the water in the composition. The water lilies in the Toledo Museum of Art reflects the catastrophic Monet viewed the world while he was composing it. Moreover, expecting the water lilies in the Legion of Honor museum was composed when World War 1 was about to end will be an educated guess because the audiences can feel faiths from Monet by looking at he painting Furthermore, the audience can neither see the ground nor the horizontal line on the far side in all the paintings of the water lilies series.
Usually an artist will compose a horizontal line and a ground where the audiences can project themselves standing in order for the audiences to travel through different parts of the picture plane. But Monet purposely filled out the whole picture plane with purely water landscape because he wanted to extend the volume that portrayed.
Hence, This composition can allow Monet to show an infinity water landscape to the audience in a finite picture plane. Truly, because Monet developed cataracts in his eye and his health condition was getting worse while he was composing the water lilies series that led to the inconvenient for him to get out of his garden easily in his late life time, this probably the reason Monet expressed his will and spirit to move freely in the water lilies paintings while he was physically limited to do that in real life.
By comparing to Monet’s early paintings such as the Sunrise in 1872, although the series of water lilies paintings still kept the fast and open brush-stroke technique that produced the unfinished looks, the audience could clearly see that Monet used more rough brushstrokes and chose more unconstrained colors in the water lilies series paintings than his early works.
Some may claim this was because of Monet had bad vision in his late life time, but I rather believe this was due to his passion to record the shifting play of light in nature and his ultimate goal to capture or even create the optical beauty of the natural world into his painting. Therefore, Claude Monet was able to break all compositional rule to paint freely in his art.