Top: Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Water Lilies, c. 1916-26, Oil on canvas, 200 x 426.1 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum. Below, Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Water Lilies (Agapanthus), about 1920-26, 205.00 x 430.5, Oil on Canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 1960.81.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies Come Together for a Season

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City

Monet's Water Lilies
April 9-August 7, 2011

For the first time in more than 30 years, all three panels of a remarkable water lily triptych by the preeminent Impressionist Claude Monet will be on view together, from April 9 to Aug. 7, at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibition reunites the right-hand panel, from the Nelson-Atkins collection, with panels owned by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The three were last exhibited together in 1979. With the exception of a triptych in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, this is the only Monet triptych in the United States.

“What this show does is it puts our Monet in context,” said Ian Kennedy, Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Curator, European Painting and Sculpture at the Nelson-Atkins. “This will be a much more intimate experience of his work than what you normally get in museums. It’s a very focused experience of Monet, without distractions, and you get to see the paintings as he intended them to be seen —not separated and surrounded by other pictures.”

Without doubt, Monet (1840-1926) was the most important of all the Impressionist painters, and his water lily paintings represent the culmination of his career, dominating the last decades of his life. “These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession for me," he wrote to a friend in 1909. “It is beyond my strength as an old man, and yet I want to render what I feel.”

Monet’s famous garden at his home in Giverny provided the inspiration for these and all of his water lily paintings, and the exhibition will bring to life the importance and beauty of this garden — and the artist’s passion for it — through a range of archival photographs, as well as an early, rarely seen film from 1915, showing Monet painting outdoors in his garden.

It is believed that Monet began work on these three massive canvases, each measuring approximately 7 feet by 14 feet, in 1915 and continued to rework them in his studio at Giverny until his death more than 10 years later.


“We don’t even know for sure whether he considered them finished,” said Simon Kelly, who, as curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum and former associate curator of European painting and sculpture at the Nelson-Atkins, has been working on this exhibition for more than three years.

A major focus of Monet’s Water Lilies will be revelatory conservation work that highlights the extent to which the artist—widely thought of as a spontaneous painter—obsessively changed his composition over the years. Through x-ray imaging, light boxes, and computerized cross-sections, conservators have discovered more about Monet’s changes. For example, beneath a cluster of water lilies on the Nelson-Atkins canvas, conservators found the image of an agapanthus plant that Monet suppressed halfway through painting it. An x-ray of the agapanthus will be part of the exhibition.

“The exhibition will explore the whole issue of process, really giving us a sense of how Monet worked, how he built up his paint layers,” Kelly said.

In a separate, dedicated space, the paintings themselves will be displayed with side panels at slight angles to recreate something of the panoramic experience of the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris where several of Monet’s water lily triptychs are mounted.

“Monet painted these in the panoramic tradition, but with no horizon line, so it’s an internalized psychological panorama,” Kennedy said. “We want people to contemplate, to become completely submerged in the experience. There will even be background music as visitors enter the main display so people will have this meditative, almost yoga-like experience looking at the pictures.”

After the exhibition premieres at the Nelson-Atkins, it will travel to the Saint Louis Art Museum in the fall of 2011, before showing at the Cleveland Museum of Art at a date to be confirmed.

This exhibition has been organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.  This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.  In Kansas City the exhibition is supported by the Hartley Family Foundation, Carol and Fred Logan and the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions.  Frontier Airlines is the official airline sponsor.

Claude Monet French, 1840-1926, Water Lilies, c. 1916–1926 Oil on canvas, 200 × 425 .5 cm, Purchase: Nelson Trust, 57-26.

Claude Oscar Monet, Woman with a Parasol, Facing Right or Study of a Figure Outdoors (Facing Right), detail, 1886, Oil on canvas, 131 x 88 cm, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Claude Monet's Legacy of Composition and Light

Claude Oscar Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873, Oil on canvas, 80 × 60 cm, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.

Claude Oscar Monet, Wind Effect, Series of The Poplars, Oil on canvas. 105
x 74 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, © Photograph: RMN, Hervé Lewandowski. In this painting, the composition of which is outstanding, with the play of curves
followed by the trees, Monet has chosen to represent only three trees in the
foreground while accentuating the diagonal of the middle one.

Claude Oscar Monet, Rouen Cathedral, Facade (sunset), 1892-1894, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris.

Claude Oscar Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of June 30, 1878, 1878,
Oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


Tokyo National Museum
13-9 Ueno Park,
+ 81-3-3822-1111
Claude Monet: His Art and His Legacy
April 7-July 2, 2007

As a young man Monet lived in the cities of Le Havre and Paris and in the area surrounding Paris. During the period these cities witnessed the spread of modern lifestyles supported by the new and modern forms of technology and industry. The modern lives of these cities and their residents became an important theme for the Impressionist painters, with Monet himself painting images of trains and crowded thoroughfares. They depicted the latest forms of modernity, including scenes of the new resorts that sprang up around the flourishing cities. Monet's family played a major role in these depictions of modern life, as the painter turned to the creation of images of prosperous families enjoying their gardens and outdoor pleasures.

Monet and his family lived in villages along the Seine, both Argenteuil and Vetheuil. Monet depicted scenes of river life, from light-glistening grassy plains to light reflecting off the river itself. Monet created these works outdoors, painting directly on the canvas, thus superbly expressing the subtle tones and shading of atmosphere. During his time in Argenteuil and Vetheuil , he also turned to images of winter such as snowy scenes or frozen ice that had rarely painted by western artists.

Monet painted light, whether the scattered diffusion of outdoor light or bright color tones reflecting that light. Monet effectively used the depiction of watery surfaces to show reflected light, and Monet often intentionally set up his easel by the side of the Seine to capture this essential element of his paintings.

White, the color that seems to so "colorless," in Monet's hands displays a subtle array of limitless shade and tone. Snow, for instance, was depicted in all of its slight nuances, shedding its previous role in western painting as a motif portraying nature's ills.

Painters prior to Monet believed that each subject had its own specific colors, and by adding black to the color of the trees or ground or such, they could contrast those areas with the bright colors. Monet completely rejected the use of black or muddied colors. Thus he did not mix his pigments on his palette; rather he used combinations of small brush strokes of individual colors, so that the viewer's eyes visually blend the colors. Tree shadows and earthen patches are all drawn in bright colors, so that at times the subject was covered with the "all-over" color fields that proved such fertile experimental ground for 20th century artists.

Painters prior to Monet believed that each subject had its own specific colors, and by adding black to the color of the trees or ground or such, they could contrast those areas with the bright colors. Monet completely rejected the use of black or muddied colors. Thus he did not mix his pigments on his palette; rather he used combinations of small brush strokes of individual colors, so that the viewer's eyes visually blend the colors. Tree shadows and earthen patches are all drawn in bright colors, so that at times the subject was covered with the "all-over" color fields that proved such fertile experimental ground for 20th century artists.

Monet derived the use of flat color planes from Japanese artistic expression. Through their depiction of depth, these color planes shattered the post Renaissance conventions of expressing a logically depicted space.

Monet's interests in Japonisme was expressed in various types of experiments throughout his life, and a typical example can be seen in his handling of a composition meant to express a natural scene. In these works he used a bird's eye perspective, sharp contrast of near and far scenes, or other experiments with the human view of nature, as demonstrated in his placement of something directly before the eye that contrasts with the distant scene.

The perspective methods developed in the Renaissance proved to be an effective means of depicting recession into space for some 400 years. However, the human visual experience cannot actually be grasped in western perspectival depiction. Monet used parallel placement of trees and other elements to create a rhythm filled composition, and as a result, developed the Poplars series of paintings.

Monet sought clear light in the reflections of light off of a watery surface, and this was an area of interest to the artist from a young age. Reflections on a watery surface led to the creation of two forms, the object on land and its reflection in water. Monet's landscapes using watery locales moved from his interest in bright scenes to his interest in double image depictions, reaching a pinnacle in external world depiction with his Waterlilies.

Monet's interests gradually focused on a limited range of subjects and on the expression of the nuances created by changes of light on the palette. Outdoor series such as Haystacks and Poplars present what can be considered abstract compositions under a variety of different color changes. Such series reached their finale in his Rouen Cathedral series, which challenged Monet with the depiction of stone architecture, a subject he had not previously handled. Monet also depicted the fogs of London, the only foreign city he repeatedly visited. Attempting to depict London led to experiments with fog, steam, water, and light, all elements hard to render visually, all shown in subtly nuanced light.

In the Poplars series there are rows of trees lined up across the picture plane. In fact they are not straight lines; rather they snake sinuously into the background, creating a rhythmical effect of decorative elements across the painting.

The Haystacks series shows the nearly cone-like shapes of haystacks, depicted in various colors depending on the light of that time of day. These paintings are more than just images of a rural season, rather their elements create almost abstract forms of composition.

The Rouen Cathedral series is Monet's depiction of a firm composition made up of a stone structure, enlivened by the subtle nuances of color and tone that emerge as light hits those firm surfaces.

From an early age, Monet sought out the ephemeral, those things which change with each passing moment. He challenged himself to capture the difficult to depict, whether smoke or steam or fog. From the Saint Lazare train station, a veritable symbol of modern society, to the River Thames in the midst of London's famous fogs, Monet's heart was filled with the need to depict subtle nuances of color and tone.

Monet's final creative base was his home at Giverny. In its flower-strewn garden he created a pond of water lilies by diverting water from the River Epte. There Monet challenged himself to create a series of paintings depicting the garden and waterlilies, all a culmination of the challenges he set for himself in the first half of his life. Though over 80 years of age, he set out to work on even larger canvases, thus creating a rich series of inimitable works.

As he took on larger and larger canvases, Monet's brushwork became all the more powerful, indeed, becoming an irrevocable self evident force. Seen up close, there is a wild chaos to the daubed-on pigments. Stepping back, however, his visual field encompassed an orderly combination of colors. Such brush strokes can be seen as the traces of the artist's creative process itself, and these elements strongly appealed to the abstract.

Monet's lifetime of experiments culminated in the Waterlilies series. His vision had been honed over the years, and as he painted the water lilies floating on the pond surface, and the elements of the external world reflected in that surface, his scenes of aquatic plants in the water created their own unique world of intertwined complex depths. In the Orangerie Museum in Paris, Monet created a space that encompasses the viewer in a horizontally arranged oval that displays his vision of nature. This space is one in which the viewers must viscerally experience the paintings, not just view them with their eyes, a place where it is impossible to grasp the depicted space from just one set view point.

Like other Impressionists, Monet expressed light and color as a single entity within his paintings. Later generations then continued his quest, expressing the equation of light — colors that do not depend on chiaroscuro. Color Field Painters of the 1950s and 60s as well as contemporary artists experimented with ways to realize light-filled composition through the adroit use of color. Creating paintings that embrace light and seem to emanate light became the dream accomplishment of countless painters.

Utilizing subtle tones of colors, contemporary painters explore how to express light without using the method of chiaroscuro in abstract compositions. Those expressions of light are also found in Monet's paintings capturing light.

The composition and structure of a painting can be said to be the strongly intellectual elements of a painting. Monet's tendency towards simplification was derived from his interests in Japonisme, and began the path to the creation of compositionally abstract paintings. Indeed, these efforts can be seen as initial preparation for the Minimalist art of the 1960s and beyond.

The works of Monet's final years were created in methods that essentially fused brush stroke and color. This section focuses on the so-called Monet Revival brought about by the Abstract Expressionists and the Informel painters as it presents works by artists who fused brushstroke, color and expression into a single entity. On the other hand, the Waterlilies series that can be seen as the culmination of Monet's art was taken up by many of the 20th century artists who expressed themselves in various methods and extracted diverse meanings from their source. This section also introduces works that were inspired by the expressive methods and subject of the Waterlilies series.

Monet was a painter who collected Japanese art works and it goes without saying that Monet was a Japonisme painter in the truest senses of the term. On the other hand, Monet is one of the painters most beloved by the Japanese people. During his lifetime, numerous Japanese visited him at Giverny, and purchased his paintings.


Claude Oscar Monet, The Regatta at Argenteuil, ca. 1872, 48 x 75 cm, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.