1840-1926 | French
Oil on canvas
“Water lilies are an extension of my life. Without the water the lilies cannot live, as I am without art.” — Claude Monet
One of the most admired and recognized artists of all time, Monet was a dedicated student of nature, and he remained a naturalist his entire life. He held a profound fascination with perspective and the play of movement and natural light, using these elements to compose landscapes of peerless beauty. His genius in recreating natural phenomena on canvas is most evident in his iconic paintings of water lilies. This oil on canvas entitled Nymphéas is an important example of these lilies, representing Monet at his most creative and expressive.
Water lilies are undoubtedly Monet’s most beloved and sought-after subject, and they are among the most celebrated images in all of modern art, inspiring generations of artists that followed. These canvases, including the present work, allowed Monet to create the most progressive compositions of his career, and they are environments of pure color and light. The artist dedicated the final years of his life to this subject, with the famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny providing the setting.
Painting and gardening were the two life-long passions that propelled Monet forward. The artist’s water lily paintings reflect his appreciation of nature and his deep connection with his gardens at Giverny. The grounds at Giverny were a labor of love for the artist, who, with the help of a team of gardeners, thoughtfully designed and installed a water garden on the property beginning in 1893. Monet filled his pond with water lilies of several varieties and surrounded it with weeping willows and a Japanese bridge, creating a setting that inspired careful study of ever-changing light, reflection, color and pattern.
His water garden sparked a decades-long artistic preoccupation. He exhibited his first water lily canvases with Durand-Ruel gallery in 1900, and he would continue to paint the subject until his death in 1926. His initial explorations of the theme resulted in works with a broader vantage point that included details of the surrounding landscape. However, his later works eliminate any depictions of land or sky, only suggesting their presence in the reflections on the water. Instead of focusing on representation, Nymphéas (1917-1919) emphasizes the abstraction of the lilies’ shape on the surface of the water by utilizing intense color harmonies and highly energetic, emotional brushwork. Although a fragment of a formerly larger work, Nymphéas is a fully-realized composition, providing a poetic, immersive experience for the viewer.
Monet’s gardens continue to attract and enchant visitors from around the world, and his water lilies achieve record prices at auction, including an oil on canvas from a 2018 Christie’s auction that brought nearly $85 million. His other Giverny-inspired works continuously fetch tens of millions in an art market that remains entranced by this master’s enduring works of the gardens he so loved. The present work is one of the very few smaller-scale works from the Nymphéas series to remain in private hands.
Born in Paris in 1840, Claude Monet was a monumental figure in the Impressionist movement and a pioneer of modernism. His Nymphéas series has had a profound impact on modern artists across styles and decades. Today, Monet’s water lilies are represented in the finest museums around the globe, including the Musée D’Orsay (Paris), the National Gallery (London), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Art Institute of Chicago and many more. The Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris dedicates two entire rooms to eight monumental water lily canvases in what has been called the “Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.”
This painting is prominently pictured in the Wildenstein Monet catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, pages 904-905.
Canvas: 18” high x 22 1/8” wide
Frame: 26 1/2" high x 30 5/8" wide
Private Collection, United States (acquired by 1989)
Wildenstein & Co., New York
Private Collection, North America, acquired from the above in June 1994
Sotheby's sale, May 6, 2015, sale number N09341, lot 129
Private Collection, UK
Private Collection, Ohio
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet Catalogue Raisonné, vol. V, Cologne, 1991, no. 2041, illustrated pp. 18-19
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet Catalogue Raisonné, vol. IV, Cologne, 1996, no. 1901a, illustrated pp. 904-05