Oil on canvas
Framed: 204.9 x 430.3 x 6 cm (80 11/16 x 169 7/16 x 2 3/8 in.); Unframed: 201.3 x 425.6 cm (79 1/4 x 167 9/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund and an anonymous gift 1960.81
Water lilies were a recurring theme in Monet's work: he painted around 250 water lily compositions.
Monet spent the last thirty years of his life painting the lily pond at his home in Giverny, a small town on the river Seine, just north of Paris. While his initial exploration of the water lily theme (1902-8) produced smaller works more descriptive of a garden setting, the later paintings focus on the water's shimmering surface, indicating the surrounding trees and lush bank only through reflections. Here reflection and reality merge in strokes of blue, violet, and green. Fronds of water plants sway underwater and passing clouds are reflected above. By 1915 Monet had conceived a plan, called his Grande Décoration, for arranging a series of monumental water lily paintings in an oval room, thus creating a continuous panorama that would surround and enclose the viewer in an environment of pure color.
The CMA painting was originally the left panel of a triptych titled Agapanthus (Nymphéas in French) that featured agapanthus growing in the foreground. At the end of World War I, Monet proposed a plan of installing the triptych together with several others in a building constructed on the grounds of the current Musée Rodin in Paris. However, the French government did not have the funds to finance such a project in the postwar era. A new idea was subsequently proposed of installing a series of these panoramic paintings in an existing building, the Orangerie near the Louvre. As the building was being prepared, Monet continued painting more works for the project and at some point repainted the Agapanthus triptych, during which the agapanthus were eliminated, leaving mostly water lilies floating in the water. Hence, the former Agapanthus triptych has become known as the Water Lilies (Agapanthus) triptych.
When Monet died in 1926 none of his works had yet been installed in the Orangerie. A selection was placed there the following year, but it did not include Water Lilies (Agapanthus) triptych, which remained in the artist's studio under the care of his family until the 1950s, when the three panels were sold separately to American museums. The companion paintings are currently in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
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