How has Monets' creativity changed over time?

Claude Monet's "Water Lilies"

In the last 35 years of his work, the French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) was primarily concerned with the design of his garden in Giverny, a village in Normandy, a good 60 km northwest of Paris. This garden served as inspiration and template for his paintings, including a series of pictures showing the ornamental pond with water lilies. While the motifs always remained the same, Monet painted them at different times of the day and weather conditions. One of Monet's most famous works from 1906 is one of the 250 oil paintings grouped under “Nymphéas” (water lilies). This oil on canvas (90 x 94 cm) painting bears the simple title, like many others in the series "Water lilies" and was first exhibited in 1909 at the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris, which acquired the painting from Monet. In 2013 it was inherited from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Claude Monet's house and garden

Monet and his family moved into the house in the village of Giverny in 1883 and began creating an ornamental garden. A few years later he bought a neighboring property, where a water garden including a bridge and an ornamental pond was created based on the Japanese model. On the one hand, Monet was a passionate gardener whose interest in garden art bordered on obsession, and on the other hand he was a collector of Japanese wood prints, from which he was familiar with the aesthetics and design of typical Japanese gardens. For example, he had cherry trees, bamboo and a type of water lily imported from Japan planted.

To look after his paradise, Monet employed half a dozen gardeners who, with plants and trees from all over the world, made sure that something different bloomed in every season. One of them was solely entrusted with the care of Monet's beloved water lilies.

He also had a studio built on the property, in which he had enough space to create his works, some of which were wall-filling.

Through the estate of one of his sons, the house and garden in Giverny became the property of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris and have been open to the public since 1980.

Water landscapes

While Monet's early works had realistic traits and he later became one of the founders and most important representatives of Impressionism, in his later work he concentrated above all on the play of light, form and color and his love for nature. In the case of the paintings based on the water garden as a model, Monet finally switched from detailed landscapes to a more free play with colors and shapes, right up to abstraction.

Reflex landscapes

Most often Monet painted the water lily pond, whereby in these paintings a section of the bank, trees and other plants at the edge of the pond and their reflections on the surface of the water can often be seen. Monet himself called these works "reflex landscapes".

In 1899 Monet created a series of 12 paintings of the bridge over the water lily pond, the most famous of which, entitled "The Japanese Bridge", belongs to the collection of the National Gallery of Art in London.

Over time, Monet painted smaller and smaller sections and took greater liberties. The representational dissolves into rough brushstrokes, the colors deviate from the original. More and more, his works were no longer created on site in the open air, but in his studio, where he also increasingly chose larger formats, up to dimensions of 2 x 6 meters.

While earlier works show part of the sky, Monet later chose the downward perspective and focused on the surface of the water with floating vegetation amid a reflection of the sky and trees. In this way he created the image of a horizontal surface on a vertical surface. The skilful play with depths immerses the viewer in a three-dimensional blue, in which it is often not clear where the water ends and the sky begins.


Monet had cataracts and said he would simply paint by the names on the tubes of paint. However, he may have simply used the refuge in his garden to freely experiment with colors and shapes after studying and painting the motifs for decades. In addition, he often used broken or worn paintbrushes, which can be recognized in some works by the linework.

    Pictures: Details of two "water lilies" works by Claude Monet. Source: Art in Words.

    Private hideaway

    His garden, as well as most of his paintings from this period, remained closed to the public. Monet hardly exhibited any more and was no longer financially obliged to sell his paintings. Long-term collectors were only able to acquire one or the other work from this period in isolated cases. The works with water lilies that were finally exhibited in Paris also initially met with little interest and were largely ignored by the public.

    The water lilies in today's art world

    The Nymphéas series of paintings are exhibited in museums around the world, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. As early as the 1920s, the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris had two oval exhibition halls built, which are still dedicated to eight large-format water lily paintings up to 17 meters wide.

    Some of the 250 pictures in the series have since been auctioned off by the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, where the timeless beauty of Monet's water lilies fetched prices of 20 to 45 million euros per work.

    Discover more paintings and sculptures in your Singulart online gallery.

    By Nina Domnig