From annoying his neighbors to a bout with self-sabotage, here are five things you probably didn’t know about Monet’s unmistakable Water Lilies.
Despite having painted 2,500 works in his lifetime, Impressionist painter Claude Monet is best known for his Water Lillies, a series comprised of 250 depictions of the flower garden in his home in Giverney outside of Paris. The artist’s fondness for and deft approach to light is evident, as he plays with this element to capture different colors and perspectives.
Nowadays, you can see the Water Lilies around the world from the Orangerie, Musée Marmottan Monet, and D’Orsay in Paris to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York to the National Gallery of London to Japan to plenty places in between.
While it’s impossible to not associate these paintings with the legendary Impressionist painter, there are lots of fun facts lingering below the surface. Here are five things you should know about Monet’s Water Lillies.
1. Monet rustled some feathers
Monet decided to import the flora from South America and Egypt, much to the dismay of local city council members who objected to him planting these exotic plants for fear they would contaminate the local weather. Thankfully, he didn’t listen to them! If he had, he might have had happy neighbors, but then there would have been no Water Lilies. Fun fact: Monet employed a gardener to clean them every day so they looked their best for the painting.
2. The progression of the art
Monet painted the series intermittently from 1896 to 1926, altering his style and focus over the course of these 30 years. What started out as landscapes in his whimsical color palette eventually evolved into reflections on the water. Late in life, his vision became impaired by cataracts. He started to see in ultraviolet light which he portrayed in the distinct purple-blue hue found in his later versions.
3. You can view a selection of the works as Monet wished them to be seen
The Orangerie Museum sits in the former orangery of the Tuileries Palace, and the building repurposed in 1921 to display works of living artists. At the time, Monet was painting a selection of Water Lilies for the state that subsequently decided to display the works there. Eight panels cover the walls of two large oval exhibition rooms especially configured for his works. The exhibit was inaugurated a few months after his death in 1927, and the museum was formally renamed shortly after. Today, it also houses works from Picasso, Cezanne, and Renoir among others.
4. It’s impossible to see them all
While Monet destroyed around 15 of his creations as he was unhappy with the result, two of his works, which had recently been acquired by MoMA, were destroyed during a fire in 1958. The loss devastated art lovers. However, MoMA eventually acquired Monet’s triptych and it can be seen there today.
5. They’re not Monet’s only series
The Water Lillies are not the artist’s sole single-subject series. He completed the Haystacks series between 1890 and 1891 and both the Houses of Parliament and Waterloo Bridge series between 1899 and 1901 during different stays in London. Fun Fact: he built the Japanese bridge in 1899 and it’s the focus of a series of 17 paintings.