Claude Monet’s paintings of his water lily pond at Giverny rank among the most celebrated Impressionist pictures. The profound impact the series made on the evolution of modern art distinguishes this important series 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 circa
1917-20, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. Le Bassin aux nymphéas
triumphantly achieves monuments of color; the water reflects the skies’ shifting hues and the lilies themselves are elegant touches of paint applied with bravura.
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 vigor 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 M. 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 S. 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).
By 1909, Monet's paintings of his Giverny garden were creating a sensation among patrons and critics. In 1909, Charles Morice wrote in response to an exhibition of recent works at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris: "These 'Paysages d'eau,' five years of studies at the edge of the same pond, miraculously synthesize all the accomplishments of Impressionism, all its errors, all its merits. One shouldn't resist this enchantment, but one must also take it into account. The omnipotence of the artist is not in question: he has done exactly what he proposed to do. But, if Delacroix had good reason to define painting as 'the art of producing illusion in the mind of the spectator by way of his eyes,' could one say that the painting of Mr. Monet accords with the terms of this definition? This painting does not aim at our mind; it stops at our eyes. This splendidly and exclusively physical art returns to the elements of matter. It has the status of a necessary reaction and bears witness always to marvelous personal gifts" (C. Morice, "Modern Art" in Mercure de France, July 16, 1909, trans. in Claude Monet: Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, 2010, p. 180).
The lasting legacy of Monet’s late work is most clearly seen in the art of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis, whose bold color planes and rejection of figuration is foreshadowed by Monet’s Nymphéas. In recent years Gerhard Richter's monumental abstract canvases, such as Cage 6 from 2006, have carried on the tradition established by his artistic forebears. As Jean-Dominique Rey writes: "Late Monet is a mirror in which the future can be read. The generation that, in about 1950, rediscovered it, also taught us how to see it for ourselves. And it was Monet who allowed us to recognize this generation. Osmosis occurred between them. The old man, mad about colour, drunk with sensation, fighting with time so as to abolish it and place it in the space that sets it free, atomizing it into a sumptuous bouquet and creating a complete film of a ‘beyond painting’, remains of consequential relevance today" (J.-D. Rey, op. cit., Paris, 2008, p. 116).
The present work is distinguished by its important early provenance. Katia Granoff, the Ukranian poet and art dealer who was close friends with Michel and Gaby Monet, was given the opportunity to acquire major works from Monet's estate including the present work. Granoff championed Monet's paintings from his late oeuvre throughout her lifetime, and contributed many photographs and factual information to the first edition of the artist's catalogue raisonné.