Rethinking Monet’s “Water Lilies”

French impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) once said “My finest masterpiece is my garden.” He was referring of course to his garden in Giverny, where for thirty years he painted his famous “Water Lilies” (Nymphéas) exhibited at Paris’ Musée de l’Orangerie. The eight monumental panels—which Andre Mason called “The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism” —were commissioned by Paris and installed after the artists death in 1927. Now, the museum is hosting a new temporary exhibition “Water Lilies. American Abstract Painting and the Last Monet” (to August 20, 2018).

The large panels depicting water lilies against reflections of clouds and shimmering water were among Monet’s last paintings. Towards the end of his life, Monet’s work increasingly reflected a form of abstraction through his simplification of composition and reduction of all unessential elements. His post 1914 paintings set a precedent for later artists. For example, Mark Rothko admired Monet’s late paintings and found affinities with his own work. Joan Mitchel —who moved to France and lived in Vetheuil, a village where Monet once lived— always claimed she didn’t consider him an influence. Most art critics disagree.

The exhibition revisits “Abstract Impressionism” and the New York School of Abstract Artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnet Newman, Ellsworth Kelly and Joan Mitchell.  Their paintings are juxtaposed to those of Monet’s making the point of just how abstract his last paintings were.

“Water Lilies. American Abstract Painting and the last Monet” to August 20, 208, Musée de l’Orangerie.