Water Lilies was one of a series of 250 paintings by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. The paintings were executed during the last thirty years of Monet’s life, and because of them, a new period of art was initiated.1 Monet had the idea that nature should be painted, the way it appears, with vibrant colors and unique textures. The water lilies were located on a pond at Giverny in his native France. The subject matter of the paintings is of a very calm pond surface, with water lilies floating on the surface. The painting clearly shows the different textures of the flowers, arrayed in red and pink and white. The original painting was oil on canvas, and measured 38.125” x 38.75”. It is currently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, though originally, it was a part of the collection at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.2 Monet himself described his interest in this work when he said, “Suddenly I had the revelation of how magical my pond is. I took up my palette. Since that time I have scarcely had any other model.”3
In form, the painting is rather expansive. It has the feel of a viewpoint that is slightly above, but not directly overhead. The water surface is still, reflecting the water lilies to some degree, along with their green pads. The scene is tranquil, colorful, and very much textured. What gives the painting its depth is that the horizon is missing, and by not including it, the entire scene takes up the whole canvas. Within the scene are all of the colors, one would see if one were present at the pond. According to the C. Monet Gallery, 4 Water Lilies is not quite abstract, but does blur the line between nonobjective art and art that shows an objective subject matter.
In this painting, Monet shows his mastery of the elements of his art. The lines of the painting are flowing, and colors and shapes and textures merge into one cohesive whole. The painting depicts a three-dimensional form with organic shapes and some implied shapes. Though the light is not strong, it does have a positive value, where the emphasis is on the colors as they also merge together. Most of the colors are mixed colors, and they give a feeling of both warmth and coolness– there are no sharp colors, but the hues are mostly warm, but the scene depicts something that we would interpret as cool and refreshing and uplifting. This gives the emotional effect of calming, and an almost sense of wonder at the bursting brilliance of something so ordinary. There is also a visual texture, not only in the differences between adjacent colors, but in what shadows are present. This texture is actual, the near the top of the painting, which depicts distance from the viewer, the texture is more implied. The space in the painting appears three-dimensional because of the perspective of distance from the viewer. It isn’t exactly a vanishing point distance, because implied in the scene something much larger than is taken up on the canvas.
One gets the impression more of a large body of water than a mere pond, and it is that expansiveness that lends to the viewer a sense of peacefulness and come, in addition to the color choices and the blurring of definitive form. A part of the calmness of the scene is also depicted by the lack of time (although it could be spring or summer, but these are, or tend to be, relaxing seasons) and motion. Anyone who has had the opportunity to see water lilies on a pond or other water location understands that these flowers take up a location and remain in that location, and do not move. Overall, the picture is one of unity, with an exquisite balance that is asymmetrical, but natural, given the subject matter. As mentioned previously, the emphasis here is on color, while line is deemphasized or subordinated to the flowing curved shapes that represent the plants on the surface of the water. The picture is also perfectly to scale, although in nature, scale is not often a part of any particular scene. Larger objects can appear in the background, but that is because they are larger, not because of any foreshortening in the foreground. But in this painting, in particular, there is a certain proportion, with smaller objects on the left countered by one larger one on the right, and grounded by a larger object immediately in the foreground. Rhythm in this case may refer to the traveling eye, which begins at the top left and moves from side decide in the painting until one is looking at the foreground.
The painting is exquisite in its apparent simplicity. Monet uses colors and textures and muted shapes to convey a sense of stillness, yet vibrant and its attraction to the eye. It is a stunning example of Impressionism, one which Monet painted with great craft and a great eye for seeing the meaning in nature as much as seeing objective nature. The elements and principles of the art work together to create a scene that appears to be both limitless in dimension, and limitless in meaning concerning the simple and peaceful way in which nature graces all of us with her beauty.