Claude Monet (1840-1926) was the founder of the artistic style of Impressionism. His painting entitled Impression, Sunrise was the where the term “Impressionism” stems. Impressionism, as it was sarcastically dubbed, was never warmly received by the art community and left Monet and other Paris-based painters to band together to form independent exhibitions of their own. A critic of their first independent exhibition said, “They are impressionists in the sense that they render not the landscape, but the sensation produced by the landscape” (Art Past Art Present, 446). Although many impressionist painters such as Degas and Manet left the movement, Monet stayed true to the artistic style throughout his life despite his sometimes intense poverty.
Impressionism blossomed during the invention of the camera, which threatened the very life and art of painting itself. In staunch contrast with a photographic picture, impressionism captures, “the visual effect of reality as it appeared to [Monet] at that moment. Monet was especially sensitive to transitory effects of color- how color changes in response to shifting light and varying atmospheric conditions” (446). Photographs from a camera cannot truly capture all that impressionistic art brings to the viewer. Instead of an Impressionist “representation of the interaction of light, atmosphere, and color that heightens our awareness of the beauty…” (446), a simple black and white photograph only can capture a moment in time with little emphasis on light and color.
Monet began to paint his most famous water lily collection at his home in Giverny in the last decade of his life (1916-1926). He intended these collections to be viewed in a rounded room to mimic nature as it has no edges or corners (Marmottan Museum Multimedia). The expanse of water and light in Monet’s collections was intended to overwhelm the viewer and make them feel as if they were right in Giverny gardens. Because of his failing eyesight in the last decade of his life, Monet’s water lily series was criticized by the art community and were never discovered by the public until twenty years after his death.
The water lily or lotus flower is a symbol of rebirth and purity. In Hindu and Buddhist art, water lilies are also a symbol of truth- everything that is good and beautiful- as well the spiritual awakening of the soul. As seeds, water lilies are buried deep in the mud of a pond and as they mature they grow up to the surface- producing beautiful flowers that sit upon the water’s surface. This act symbolizes spiritual awakening because “It represents the being, which lives in turbid waters yet rises up and blossoms to the point of enlightenment”(The Lotus and the Water Lily-Correcting the Confusion).
In Monet’s depiction of this pure flower, sky meets water as the audience looks into the pond of water lilies. The reflection of a weeping willow is also seen in the water which was a tribute to the fallen French soldiers who fought in World War I. The pairing of death and rebirth within Monet’s painting highlights the connected nature of these two ideas- it is through death (of self, of one’s sinful nature) that our souls can be set free and be reborn. The French poet Paul Claudel said: “Thanks to water, [Monet] has become the painter of what we cannot see. He addresses the invisible spiritual surface that separates light from reflection.”
1. Gaia, Maya. “The Lotus and the Water Lily- Correcting the Confusion About Their
Botany, Iconography, Symbolism and Entheogenic Properties.” Maya-Gaia.
N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. .
2. The Museum of Modern Art. Claude Monet, Water Lilies c.1920. MoMa Multimedia.
The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. .
3. Wilkins, David G., Bernard Schultz, and Katheryn M. Linduff. Art Past Art
Present. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print.