Bassin aux Nymphéas by Monet
See also : France Monet
Chronology : 1900-1909 1905 1907 1908 1910-1919 1914 1918 1919
A specialist in bamboos and other aquatic plants, Latour-Marliac is a skilled hybridizer. He was the first in Western Europe to create colored nenuphars by crossbreeding the usual white flowered plants with wild species.
In 1893, when Monet obtains the administrative authorization to create a water garden in his estate at Giverny, he already knows that it will be a laboratory for his artistic creation. He was then interested in the reflections in the water of the tall trees and of the Japanese bridge.
In 1894 he purchases from Latour-Marliac plants from 32 different species including a yellow Nymphaea created in 1888 and a pink Nymphaea created in 1892. His interest in these hybrids is not immediate but his curiosity increases.
Monet paints his first Nymphéas in 1895, displaying the plants on the water in close-up with a botanical accuracy on canvases less than 1 m wide.
2015 SOLD for $ 54M by Sotheby's
Unlike the ivy on the wall, they will not cover the entire available surface. Spreading their leaves flush with water, they materialize in perspective the real surface of the pond, gradually occupying the surface of the pond. The artist has found his master : nature itself, no less.
These nymphéas become a favorite theme in Monet's art. Nothing escapes him in the daily cycle from the opening to the closing of the blossom, or in the reaction of the plant to light and to weather conditions. He still uses the process that was so successful to him in previous decades, by installing several easels and working from canvas to canvas depending on hour and weather.
From 1904 to 1908, Monet produced his first series of Nymphéas. With more than 60 paintings which he wants all different from one another, the artist expresses the most subtle variations of color and light, changing the distance and population of the flowers, the importance of the reflections from the trees and the expressive power of color.
The artist later recognized that he "hardly had any other subject since that moment". He was indeed catching in his own garden the most subtle theme of modern painting.
The horizon disappears, the details become abstract but the botanical accuracy remains. An early example in this new figurative style, dated 1904, 81 x 100 cm, was sold for £ 18.5M by Sotheby's on 19 June 2007, lot 7.
In 1905 the water lilies are sparse to offer a better role to reflections that became recognizable although the trees are still out of field. The plants form a floating cohort simulating a nice horizontal movement.
On May 5, 2015, Sotheby's sold for $ 54M from a lower estimate of $ 30M an oil on canvas 81 x 100 cm painted in 1905, lot 30. It displays the blocks at the water surface in an atmosphere of early or late hour providing a superb harmony of deep blues and greens.
Durand-Ruel was the first to understand and support the transformation of the art of Monet. In 1909, he assembled in an exhibition 48 Nymphéas by Monet, including the painting narrated above. Through this unique theme, careful observers could detect the infinite variety of the artistic creation.
2012 SOLD for $ 44M by Christie's
Constable had been the painter of the wind. Monet was the artist of the water surface. After the development of Impressionism, the Nymphéas series is the second revolution brought about by Monet in art history.
A view in clear weather under a gentle sun, oil on canvas 90 x 100 cm painted in 1905, was sold for $ 44M from a lower estimate of $ 30M by Christie's on November 7, 2012. The water lilies have a botanical accuracy, the more readable reflections are a better tribute to the pleasure of the garden. It had been exhibited by Durand-Ruel in the groundbreaking 1909 exhibition.
2014 SOLD for £ 32M by Sotheby's
Claude Monet is the painter of the elusive. His studies of light variations have transformed the Western art. He should not be regarded as a leader, but rather as a great creator.
And the Durand-Ruel gallery was a great instigator of talent. In 1905, Monet is 65 years old, already. He departed from the excitement of the life in Paris to enjoy his garden at Giverny. An exhibition project for Durand-Ruel made his passion. The exhibition took place in 1909, and Monet found there the theme that monopolized his art until the end of his life: the water lilies in his garden.
This series of "Nymphéas" mark the total success of an impossible challenge: to show in painting the transparency of water. The flowers are seen obliquely, with perspective, lighting and reflections being different each time. They are widely spaced, and between them is coming the incredible illusion: the observer sees the surface of the water. They are not abstract, far away, but the lack of horizon has certainly influenced the non-figurative art.
An oil on canvas 90 x 100 cm was sold for $ 21M by Christie's on May 8, 2000, lot 21, and for £ 32M by Sotheby's on June 23, 2014, lot 17. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
Made in 1906, it was one of the highlights of the exhibition of 1909. The light is established by very subtle pastel shades, and the reflections are superb.
2022 SOLD for $ 56M by Christie's
Monet applies in 1907 his signature practice of repeating the same views by varying time of the day, weather and season. The Wildenstein references W1695 to W1700 and W1703 to W1717 are such groups.
On May 12, 2022, Christie's sold for $ 56M from a lower estimate of $ 35M a 94 x 89 cm oil on canvas painted in 1907 in pastel like hues, lot 12C, reference Wildenstein 1698. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Between the groups of floating flowers, the mirror image of the trees and sky at the surface of the water provides another pre-abstract element. The wide open blossoms had been captured in the morning or early afternoon.
This opus was included in the seminal exhibition of 48 Nymphéas by Durand-Ruel in 1909.
Its nearly square format certainly predates the bold transition to vertical format in the same year, which would be a nonsense if the painting were a mere scenery.
1907 W1708 Temps gris
2022 SOLD for £ 30M by Christie's
Nymphéas, temps gris, oil on canvas 100 x 73 cm painted by Monet in 1907, is the next Wildenstein opus, W1708. It features the pond, the flowers and the reflections of the foliage in poor weather, highlighting the thunderous reflection of the sky between the floating groups of water lilies. Monet will not reuse this dramatic effect in the next series of Nymphéas.
W1708 was featured in the seminal exhibition of the Nymphéas by Durand-Ruel in 1909. It was sold by Christie's for $ 11.2M on May 2, 2006, lot 11 coming at that time from the family of Aristotle Onassis, and for £ 30M on June 28, 2022, lot 38. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
2015 SOLD for $ 34M by Sotheby's
His focus is also changing. Controlling the effects of the surface of water, he scatters the leaves. The horizon and the shore are pushed out of field, which facilitates the adoption of a square format. The perspective is replaced by the flexible figures formed by the flotilla of plants. The clear water reflects the tall trees. The main theme is not the pool but the color.
Unlike previous series, Monet is managing to bring this theme to a close. As he progresses, he removes the paintings that no longer suit him. It is probably for this reason that he is so reluctant to leave his garden for his long stay in Venice, from October 1908.
Back from Venice, he does not retrieve his obsession. Durand-Ruel can finally exhibit the Nymphéas, from May 6 to June 5, 1909. This set of 48 paintings offers the complete vision of the artist for this theme.
On November 5, 2015, Sotheby's sold for $ 34M an undated oil on canvas 100 x 81 cm, lot 22. Its focusing on the plants in subtle pastel tones is typical of the later 1908 Nymphéas.
1914-1917 Nymphéas en Fleur
2018 SOLD for $ 85M by Christie's
1914 is a terrible year. His son Jean dies in February, less than three years after Alice. International relations are desperate. Fortunately his friend Georges Clemenceau pushes him back to work by suggesting the project of the Grandes Décorations.
In 1914 he restarts his theme of Nymphéas on larger formats while observing its decorative effect. He redesigns his workshop in the following year to paint entirely indoors his largest canvases which he devotes to enlargements of small details. A group of giant iris at water's edge 200 x 100 cm was sold for £ 10.8M by Christie's on June 23, 2015.
This decorative ambition led him in 1917 to test panoramic formats, around 130 x 200 cm, the largest dimension for which he is able to paint outdoors using a system of ropes and weights. He multiplies the sketches with, according to his signature habit, the greatest variety of colors expressing the different lights of the day.
Under the influence of Clémenceau, the project becomes a patriotic symbol, titled Les Grandes Décorations, which he completes in 1926.
On May 8, 2018, Christie's sold for $ 85M Nymphéas en fleur, oil on canvas 140 x 180 cm painted in his signature style of 1914-1917, lot 10.
The large size enables here a synthesis of the two visions of the artist. Nine big flowers in five groups have retrieved the details of the earliest series while the leaves and reflections are positioning the surface of the water on the whole of this image with no horizon.
#LiveLikeARockefeller: ‘The closer you get to the canvas, the more you feel like you’re inside it. The rest of the world vanishes,’ says Rebecca Wei, our President of Christie’s Asia, of the Rockefellers’ ‘Nymphéas en fleur’ by Claude #Monet.https://t.co/mT8EnKHNAN pic.twitter.com/LrOsMEJU7F— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 24, 2018
preparation for Les Grandes Décorations
Times are hard for Monet. He had lost his son Jean just before the outbreak of the First World War. His sight becomes deficient. He decides to stay in Giverny whatever the future events and compensates his isolation by declaring his patriotism alongside his friend Clémenceau.
He builds in 1915 the barn studio in which he can paint entirely indoors his largest canvases, around 2 x 2 m, which he devotes to enlargements of small details.
This decorative ambition led him in 1917 to test two new panoramic formats, 100 x 200 cm and 130 x 200 cm, the largest dimension for which he is able to paint outdoors using a system of ropes and weights. These experiments bring more sense to the focusing of the picture onto the pond with its plants and its reflections but without shore or sky. He multiplies the sketches with as ever the greatest variety of colors expressing the different lights of the day.
In the wording of his time, Monet becomes a decorator, favoring effect and atmosphere rather than the figuration. In the language of our time, he is a precursor of the abstract sensitivity.
The project of dedicating a full exhibition room to a circular view of the pond is a breakthrough. Now Monet does not express the nature but instead the feeling of serenity which had become so rare and precious in war time.
Peace is back. Under the influence of Clémenceau, the project becomes a patriotic symbol, titled Les Grandes Décorations. Completed a few months before he died in 1926, it is made of eight compositions using 22 canvases in a unique height of 2 m for a total length of 90 m.
1918 Coin du Bassin
2021 SOLD for $ 51M by Sotheby's
His most spectacular studies were for the panoramic formats. He also selected a few corners in his garden for capturing in independent series the effects of light beside the shadows of a deep foliage.
These oil studies have sometimes been considered as precursors to the abstract expressionism. Indeed Monet was working on the specific beauty of dark hues half a century before Rothko prepared the Rothko Chapel.
Saule pleureur is a series of ten paintings on a theme aside from the pond, within the foliage of a weeping willow. An oil on canvas 130 x 110 cm was sold for £ 8.9M by Christie's on June 29, 2017, lot 14.
Le Pont Japonais is a series of 24 paintings made between 1918 and 1924. An undated example, oil on canvas 73 x 100 cm, was sold for $ 12.8M by Christie's on May 13, 2019, lot 36A. Another one, also undated, was sold for $ 15.8M by Sotheby's on May 7, 2014.
His new vertical studies display some detail in the garden, including the float of the waterlilies.
A Coin du bassin aux nymphéas, oil on canvas 130 x 89 cm, was sold for $ 51M by Sotheby's on November 16, 2021, lot 26. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
This painting keeps intact its original thick impasto used by Monet for new luminosity effects, in a mingling of many colors that anticipates Pollock.
This opus was dated 1918 by the artist. It was part of a few paintings released by Monet to the market in January 1919, split between Durand-Ruel and Bernheim-Jeune. This one was shared by both dealers.
Viewed from a vantage point, an undated Coin du bassin aux nymphéas, oil on canvas 130 x 89 cm, was sold for $ 22M by Christie's on May 13, 2019, lot 35A.
The aging Monet was certainly anxious when he made this specific painting. The incandescent light behind the trees of his own garden is otherworldly. He kept this highly personal work in his studio until his death.
2021 SOLD for $ 70M by Sotheby's
This piece is an oil of canvas 100 x 200 cm, a panoramic format used by Monet in the middle preparation phase of Les Grandes Décorations, from 1917 to 1919, after he completed a barn-like studio for the specific purpose of doubling the size of his pictures.
In conjunction with the complete removal of both shore and horizon, the large size of the flowers indeed brings the impression of a very close view of the pond. This immersion is enhanced by the reflections of green trees and blue sky in the interstices between the groups of floating plants.
The emotion and the presence are brought by the arrangement of the increasingly vibrant colors while the topographic depiction becomes unnecessary. This opus had probably been prepared at the end of the 1917-1919 period. It is indeed a forerunner of the trend to abstraction of the next phase of Monet's career.
2008 SOLD for £ 41M by Christie's
One of these paintings is in the Metropolitan Museum. Another one was sold by Christie's on November 11, 1992 for $ 12M, a good result for that period of recession in the art market. The third was cut in half before 1944. The left side is in the Tel Aviv Museum. The right side was sold for $ 27M by Christie's on May 12, 2016.
The fourth painting, oil on canvas 100 x 200 cm, was sold by Christie's on June 24, 2008 for £ 41M, lot 16. The groups of leaves form a frame around the reflections of the trees in the blue water. The image is shared by Wikimedia.