Claude Monet is known as one of the most famous painters of the Impressionist movement, which took its name from one of his paintings, Impression, soleil levant [Impression, Sunrise], dated 1872 (Musée Marmottan, Paris).
From the late 1890s to his death in 1926, the painter devoted himself to the panoramic series of Water Lilies, of which the Musée de l’Orangerie has a unique series. In fact, the artist designed several paintings specifically for the building, and donated his first two large panels to the French State as a symbol of peace on the day following the Armistice of 12 November 1918.
He also designed a unique space consisting of two oval rooms within the museum, giving the spectator, in Monet’s own words, “an illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon and without shore,” and making the museum’s Water Lilies a work that is without equal anywhere in the world. Monet’s eight compositions were set out in the two consecutive oval rooms, both of which have the advantage of natural light from the skylights, and are oriented from west to east, following the course of the sun and one of the main routes through Paris along the Seine. The two ovals evoke the symbol of infinity, whereas the paintings represent the cycle of light throughout the day.
Monet greatly increased the dimensions of his initial project, started before 1914. The painter wanted visitors to be able to immerse themselves completely in the painting and to forget about the outside world. The end of the First World War in 1918 reinforced his desire to offer beauty to wounded souls.
The first room brings together four compositions showing the reflections of the sky and the vegetation in the water, from morning to evening, whereas the second room contains a group of paintings with contrasts created by the branches of weeping willow around the water’s edge.
The Water Lilies were installed according to plan at the Musée de l’Orangerie in 1927, a few months after Monet’s death. This unique set of canvases were designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before.
The setting for the paintings is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.
You can take a virtual tour of the Water Lilies cycle here: