Thursday 30 September 2010

Monet's Waterlilies

When we were in Paris in late December, returning home from Australia, we took the opportunity to visit the Orangerie, a domed building off Place de la Concorde. It is home to many of Monet's famous paintings of waterlilies and it is one of those places that tends to get forgotten in the myriad of huge and great museums and galleries that Paris has to offer.

A few deft brushstrokes, and you have waterlilies bobbing
on the pond surface.
Even so, you need to get there at opening time to ensure you walk straight in. Because of the way the panoramic canvases are presented, visitor numbers at any one time are restricted, and once the building reaches capacity, someone has to come out for the next person in the queue to get in.

Probably the image most people have in their minds
of Monet's waterlilies.
In the galleries that display the Monets you can stand up close and study the brush strokes or you can stand in the middle and take in the whole view. Monet painted the waterlily pond many times, in different light conditions and seasons. He clearly worked quickly over much of the painting, covering large areas of background with broad rough strokes, turning two or three little pink and white twitches of the bristles into flowers. You can see that the panorama has been created by painting a series of more manageable sized canvases which are then joined together. Occasionally you can see where he didn't quite match a canvas to its adjoining section, or didn't bother completely covering a corner.

Was this panel painted in the autumn, when the bankside
vegetation was yellowing? How much of it is reflection?
For me, being able to get really close to them was fascinating, and to see how different they are. I had seen the one in the National Gallery of Australia, which is a pretty 2m square concoction of blue-greens and pink - clearly painted on a lovely sunny day. It seemed to me that many of the ones in the Orangerie were painted in greyer light conditions, at dusk, or in the autumn. There is a theory that Monet's sight was deteriorating and this accounts for the increasingly murky paintings, but having seen them in the flesh, and having visited the garden itself on a dull summers day, I really feel he was painting what he saw. Often he is choosing to paint the juxtaposition of reflection and reality, so that you cannot tell which is which, lush bank vegetation projecting into tangled water lily or gently wind ruffled pond surface. The width of the works enables him to cross back and forth between solid objects and their watery projections, drawing you in to a representation of somewhere essentially nebulous and ephemeral.

I think this is my favourite panel. If you visit the garden,
you can stand in this spot and see this view today.
Looking at these paintings I could see how he was drawn into fascination with the changing light and colours and why he painted the lily pond over and over. Particularly if one has seen the actual garden, these works are very accessible to the viewer and I guess this is why they are loved the world over.

If you are visiting Paris, try to visit this gallery if you possibly can, and as an added bonus, there is an exhibition of Monet's work at the Grand Palais until 24 January 2011.



chm said...

It's so long ago, I can't remember the first time I went to the Orangerie, and the Jeu de Paume where the Impressionists now in the musée d'Orsay were housed. As for the Orangerie, I went there, more recently, in 1992 and again in 1999 with Ken, Walter and two other friends before it was remodeled. I think Walter when back there recently after the renovation and talked about it in a blog.

Your photos are absolutely beautiful.

Amanda said...

He is one of my favorite too.
How I wish I could be in Paris to see the Grand Palais exhibition this winter.

wcs said...

A domed building?

Simon said...


The rooms the largest pics are in have a sort of false interior dome on the ceiling.

Jean said...

I went to an exhibition at the Royal Academy a few years ago entitled "Monet in the 20th Century". Part of it illustrated the changes in his paintings as his cataracts developed. He had treatment which required several operations over a period of years, although I can't remember the precise details. I found it quite fascinating.

Ann Ferguson said...

I arrived in Paris with my family on Monday and have been absorbing all the cultural opportunities since but I was unaware of the exhibition that you feature in your blog. I leave Paris to travel to St Aignan on Saturday morning so it will be possible that I'll
miss this so thank you for the pictures and tips. Looking forward to the quieter rural aspects of the French countryside in the coming 3 weeks. Stephen has been following your blog as has my daughter so I have become an interested in your blog too.

Simon said...

Jean - it does indeed sound fascinating.

Ann. Welcome to the commentsphere. We're working around Chenonceau/Cheverny/Loches Monday and Tuesday next week, so if you see a Célestine shaped car, give oit a wave as it's probably us

wcs said...

Oh, the sky-lit gallery. I see what you mean.

Susan said...

Walt: sorry - it registers on my brain as a domed building. Sloppy writing on my part.

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