Claude Monet - Water Lilies 1905

Water Lilies 1905
Water Lilies
1905 81x101cm oil/canvas
Private collection, National Museum Wales, Cardiff

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Catalogue Note from Sotheby's
Claude Monet’s Nymphéas are amongst the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings. The profound impact the series has made on the evolution of Modern Art marks them out as Monet’s greatest achievement. The famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major late works, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present work, which dates from 1905, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. Monet’s Nymphéas from 1905-1907 are triumphantly achieved monuments of color; the water reflects the skies’ shifting hues and the lilies themselves are elegant touches of paint applied with bravura. As Daniel Wildenstein notes, it was in 1905 that Monet’s canvases took an especially close up view of the pond, with a number of water lilies in the foreground of their compositions, and no sign of the banks. This innovative approach can be seen in the present work and a closely related painting in the National Museum of Wales.
By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond. There were initially a number of complaints about Monet’s plans to divert the river Epte through his garden in order to feed his new pond, which he had to address in his application to the Préfet of the Eure department: "I would like to point out to you that, under the pretext of public salubrity, the aforementioned opponents have in fact no other goal than to hamper my projects out of pure meanness, as is frequently the case in the country where Parisian landowners are involved […] I would also like you to know that the aforementioned cultivation of aquatic plants will not have the importance that this term implies and that it will be only a pastime, for the pleasure of the eye, and for motifs to paint" (quoted in Michael Hoog, Musée de l’Orangerie. The Nymphéas of Claude Monet, Paris, 2006, p. 119). Once the garden was designed according to the artist’s vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monet’s career. Towards the end of his life, he obfuscated his initial intentions, perhaps with a mind to his own mythology, telling a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment" (quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146).
Once discovered, the subject of water lilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colors and patterns. John House wrote: "The water garden in a sense bypassed Monet’s long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather" (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31).