Monet’s Are Shown at the Musée de L’Orangerie Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Painter Claude Monet’s canvases depicting the water lilies of his residence at Giverny were unveiled to the public five months after Monet’s death.

Summary of Event

The patriarch of Impressionism, Claude Monet, who pioneered techniques of converting observations of the effects of light and cloud clusters on textured foliage and water into lyrical brushwork, did not live to see his transient, iridescent images hung in the two specially designed galleries on the ground floor of the Musée de l’Orangerie set aside to honor his artistic vision. Five months after his death, the focal point of the exhibit—his Décorations des Nymphéas, the ephemeral, liquid impressions of the water lilies in the pond on the grounds of his rural home near Vernon, northwest of Paris—drew record crowds of admirers. Unaccustomed to contemporary scenes depicted under the dappled, shimmering light and indistinct leafy patterns reflected in shallow water, patrons of the arts absorbed the rich, evocative canvases and lauded the painter as one of the world’s most creative and innovative artists. [kw]Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de L’Orangerie (May 17, 1927)[Monets Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de LOrangerie (May 17, 1927)] [kw]Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de L’Orangerie, Monet’s (May 17, 1927) [kw]Musée de L’Orangerie, Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the (May 17, 1927)[Musée de LOrangerie, Monets Water Lilies Are Shown at the (May 17, 1927)] [kw]L’Orangerie, Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de (May 17, 1927)[LOrangerie, Monets Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de (May 17, 1927)] [kw]Orangerie, Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de L’ (May 17, 1927) Water Lilies (Monet) Art;painting Painting;Impressionism [g]France;May 17, 1927: Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de L’Orangerie[06870] [c]Arts;May 17, 1927: Monet’s Water Lilies Are Shown at the Musée de L’Orangerie[06870] Monet, Claude Boudin, Eugène Clemenceau, Georges Kandinsky, Wassily

The oldest son of a wealthy, iron-willed wholesaler, Monet, who was drawn to the subtleties of color and light during long hours spent on the shore at the seaport of Le Havre, began drawing in childhood. He incurred the displeasure of his father yet persevered in the development of his talent. Influenced by the work of Johan Jongkind and his mentor, Eugène Boudin, he chose Paris as the place to study. At the age of nineteen, surrounded by other young rebels defying the stuffy, proprietary conventions of academic art, he joined the admiring coterie that formed around Édouard Manet Manet, Édouard and Edgar Degas. Degas, Edgar Along with his peers, Monet rejected the emphasis on religious and historical representations and established a working relationship with the outdoors, where he studied the optic phenomena that allow the eye to separate segments of objects into patches of light.

Under the influence of photography, which was still in its infancy, Monet duplicated lifelike moments in ordinary life by breaking down each scene into a free-form chiaroscuro of light and component hues, thereby freeing perception from traditional limitations. Working from a floating deck near Argenteuil, he concentrated on riverside activities along the Seine and re-created typical scenes of strollers and boaters eating, drinking, and enjoying the outdoors. Later, through travels to the Riviera, Rouen, Normandy, Venice, Norway, and London, he expanded his repertoire to a variety of subjects, most of which emphasized the interplay of sky and water.

The first public acclaim for Monet’s canvases came in 1874, at what came to be known as the First Impressionist Exhibition. This was a decade after Manet’s humiliation by protests against his Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863; luncheon on the grass), capped by the Emperor Napoleon III’s description of the work as offensive to public sensibilities. Reacting with similar vitriol to Monet’s departure from the static guidelines of the École des Beaux-Arts, scoffing critics, preferring the hard outlines of realistic art, evolved the pejorative term “Impressionism” to refer to the softer, less well-defined images in his work. The term, which came from the title of Monet’s Impression: Sunrise (1872), indicated the rise of an avant-garde approach to perception that centered on the elusive optical effects of shifting flecks of light on outdoor settings. Applying a matrix of short, precise brushstrokes, Monet utilized bright colors to emulate natural scenes, often painting sequential groupings representing the same object viewed at different times of day and under varying weather conditions. The best of Monet’s serial works depict haystacks, poplar trees, the Gare Saint-Lazare, and the stone facade of Rouen Cathedral.

In contrast to the vibrant, cheery subject matter of his paintings, Monet survived a somber period of poverty and public disparagement, during which his wife and chief model, Camille, the mother of his two sons, suffered from tuberculosis. After Camille’s death, Monet married Alice Raingo Hoschedé, the widow of his agent, in 1879 and entered a more promising era as public response to his innovations began to mellow. As his prospects improved, Alice, an uplifting companion, helped establish local and familial ties that provided necessary emotional support for his endeavors.

Moving in 1883 from oppressive rented quarters in Poissy, the Monets settled at Giverny in the Seine Valley near the Epte River. Monet expanded the original grounds, the Clos Normand, to include a fern-edged pond, overhanging willows, footpaths, wisteria trellises, clumps of bamboo, and a gently arched Oriental bridge. To expedite his work, he erected a photographic lab, a garage, and the first of three studios. After the death of his wife in 1911 and his son Jean’s death three years later, he grew more reclusive and intensified his work. For the remaining years of his life, he battled double cataracts and underwent two eye operations that were only marginally successful.

Still attuned to his earlier philosophies despite impaired vision, Monet concentrated his remaining artistic output on the lilies rising from the waters behind the flowerbeds and produced his massive Water Lilies cycle, which the French government commissioned in 1914. To accommodate his oversized canvases, Monet built a larger studio. He then immersed himself in the beauties of his garden while Blanche Hoschedé, his widowed stepdaughter, tended the house and kept him company. Painting primarily from memory as his eyesight deteriorated, he retreated in despair and grew discouraged with his paintings; he reworked some and burned others.

By 1920, critics drawn to Monet’s unique style agreed with politician Georges Clemenceau’s support for a permanent collection at the Hôtel Biron and initiated a more thorough study of his technique and point of view. Plagued by increasing bouts of depression and exhaustion, Monet lost heart with his work yet continued painting. On April 12, 1922, pressed by Clemenceau for a formal agreement, Monet signed papers donating Water Lilies to France. The notarized statement pledged two salons in the Orangerie, where nineteen panels would be arranged in an oval. Monet did most of the work on these panels during World War I but continued to rework them. On his death in 1926, Monet was attended by Clemenceau, his longtime friend and supporter. The Water Lilies cycle at the Orangerie was dedicated on May 17, 1927.


A profound influence on the field of art, Monet’s unrestrained experimentation with chromatic abstraction led to an irrevocable break with the old order, which had been dominated by gallery critics. Most significant of his influence was the emergence of abstract art, Abstract art a direct outgrowth of his limpid reflecting pools, which distorted the shapes of objects and allowed the imagination full play in viewing hard realities. Applying intense study of the complex relationship between light and object, Monet’s followers evolved their own reality, which often required a leap of faith from the viewing public. Splinter movements associated with Impressionism included pointillism, Pointillism the use of minute, controlled points of color to create images. Pointillist works often are unclear when viewed up close and take shape only when viewed at a distance. Pointillism is exemplified in Georges Seurat’s Seurat, Georges Un Dimanche d’eté à la Grande Jatte (1884-1886; Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte). Moving in the opposite direction, Vincent van Gogh’s Gogh, Vincent van swirling, emotional, distorted expressionism, as represented in The Starry Night (1889), brought an ecstasy to the canvas never before seen in European art. Similarly, Paul Gauguin’s Gauguin, Paul Symbolist Symbolist movement canvases—among them Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897) and The Yellow Christ (1889)—evolved from his sojourn in Tahiti and shocked European sensibilities with his frank assessment of island settings, nude Polynesians, and juxtaposition of Christian and pagan religious symbols.

During this same era, Auguste Renoir Renoir, Auguste and Paul Cézanne Cézanne, Paul returned to a closer identity with solid form. Renoir, one of Impressionism’s most skilled craftsmen, extended Monet’s use of patchy light with a pearly glow exuding a harmony and beneficence on his graceful subjects. In his best-loved paintings, he imparts a mature, dignified beauty to middle-class Europeans engaged in lighthearted pastimes.

An even greater departure from realism, the Fauvism Fauvism of Henry Matisse, Maurice Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, and André Derain, carried Impressionism into the realm of flat planes of exotic colors. Likewise, the cubism Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso took similar liberties with geometric forms, often viewing subjects simultaneously from several blended points of view by breaking the whole into planes and cubes. The resulting geometric treatments created greater demands on a bewildered viewing public, which was, on first exposure, repulsed by both artistic styles.

Delving deeper into the elements of perception, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, influenced by a viewing of Monet’s haystack paintings early in his career, wrote an incisive theoretical commentary, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and Painting in Particular (1912). Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and Painting in Particular (Kandinsky) Kandinsky’s paintings, energized by swirls of color, demonstrated an intensity of geometric interest similar to the abstractions of the cubists. His disciples Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and August Macke formed the Blaue Reiter group, which exhibited at the German Bauhaus until the Bauhaus was suppressed by the Nazis in 1933.

Still viable and influential a century later, Monet’s art, with its free splashes of color and emphasis on ordinary activities, undergirded a burst of enthusiasm from publishers, who met the public’s demand for art with affordable photographic reproductions, prints, and art books. Completely trouncing the tyranny of elitism, followers of Monet created a market for galleries, museums, and open-air markets.

To the average patron of the arts, the post-Monet era proved baffling, as artists including painters, musicians, dancers, sculptors, writers, and architects moved further away from finite, hard-edged objectivity toward the dreamy, indistinct Impressionism of Monet’s water lilies. The presentation of Monet’s artistry unleashed a drive for self-expression, experimentation, and rebellion against the values inherent in the Edwardian era. Some artists, particularly Picasso, abandoned controlled brushstrokes for dots, swirls, and dollops of paint on canvas. Sculptors used found objects such as gears and tangles of wire to create free-form art, sometimes creating pictorial collages that were textural blends of painting and sculpture.

Minimalism, a direct outgrowth of Impressionism that sprouted in the 1950’s, saw painting develop into colorful geometric shapes—circles, squares, chevrons, nested boxes, and grids—on oversized canvases. Like Monet, the minimalists often serialized their work, concentrating on a single theme, often producing diptychs and triptychs that critics labeled “systematic.” Huge, austere sculptures, equally pared down to modular shapes, appeared in public plazas, courtyards, and modern galleries such as New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Offshoots of minimalism produced a burst of energy in optical art and pop art, as demonstrated by the intensity of Andy Warhol’s experimental canvases, including his notorious Campbell’s Soup cans and Brillo boxes. Likewise, poets, dramatists, and novelists strove for the focus and freedom of the Impressionists by shutting out needless detail and concentrating on the stream of consciousness of a single character, as with the speakers in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930) and the absurdist dramas of Eugène Ionesco, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, and Samuel Beckett, whose En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954) served as the high-water mark of Surrealist drama. Equally unfettered were the atonal musical compositions of Charles Ives and Paul Hindemith, the daring twelve-tone works of Arnold Schoenberg, the whimsical, unpredictable tunes of Erik Satie, and the modern dance forms of Martha Graham.

Another important adjunct to Monet’s twentieth century audience was the restoration of his deteriorating house and garden, which he willed to his second son, Michel. Underwritten by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the project, begun in 1966, reestablished the public’s admiration for Impressionism by providing a spot of natural beauty for recreation and relaxation. An inviting outdoor retreat and museum, Monet’s Giverny ranks as one of France’s most beloved tourist attractions. Its popularity inspired a review of turn-of-the-century art at a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit titled Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, which featured eighty-one of his canvases dating from 1883 to 1926. Water Lilies (Monet) Art;painting Painting;Impressionism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burchell, S. C. The Age of Progress. Rev. ed. New York: Time-Life Books, 1979. A compelling overview of the guiding philosophy that steered nineteenth century artists into new realms, particularly in art, music, and literature. Covers the era that gave birth to Monet and his fellow Impressionists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clay, Jean. Impressionism. New York: Putnam, 1973. Well-organized text includes an essay on prices, concise essays about each artist, and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. A grand, complete study of Impressionism, including ample color plates, a list of the museums that house the paintings, notes, lengthy bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kemp, Gerald van der. A Visit to Giverny. Translated by Bronia Fuchs. Versailles, France: Éditions d’Art Lyc, 1980. Useful brief guide to Monet’s home contrasts photographs of the original residence and grounds with later paintings and pictures after the estate’s restoration. Provides a detailed grounding in Monet’s Giverny period, backed by sufficient fact and commentary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monet, Claude. Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978. Lavish book of Monet’s art features photographs of the artist in his studio and country home, a chronology, incisive essays about his work and influence, and a selected bibliography. More than the standard coffee-table book it appears to be; closer examination proves its use to the student and art historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Picon, Gäeton. “Impressionism.” In Modern Painting: From 1800 to the Present. New York: Newsweek Books, 1974. Useful guide for the general reader. Contains a satisfying balance of text and illustration to define art philosophy of the late nineteenth century. Especially helpful are writings by the principal artists (including an interview with Claude Monet concerning his early training) as well as a detailed chronology and thorough index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sagner-Duchting, K., ed. Monet and Modernism. New York: Prestel, 2002. Discusses the influence of Monet’s work on the artists who came after him. Beautifully illustrated, juxtaposing paintings by Monet with those of twenty-five modern artists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Time-Life Books. Seven Centuries of Art. New York: Author, 1970. A useful overview of art history, setting Impressionism within its time frame, with brief commentary about its offshoots. Although too shallow for art scholars, provides an appropriate beginning for students.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tucker, Paul Hayes, with George T. M. Shackelford and MaryAnne Stevens. Monet in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. Catalog for a 1998 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston focuses on Monet’s work after 1900. Includes useful essays that place the artist within the context of the time. Features chronology, selected bibliography, and index.

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Categories: History