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Nymphéas, Claude Monet and the Impressionist movement

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December 05, 2016
I have long been a fan of Impressionist paintings and after having encountered several works of art in various museums across Europe, I had a chance to see one of the most symbolic masterpieces of the era at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. Although the museum is not a huge one, the works of art on display are simply sublime. Even though the museum contains the works of several great artists, the highlight of the museum is Nymphéas, one of the final works of Claude Monet, which consists of twelve large canvasses displayed in two oval-shaped chambers.

Claude Monet

Oscar-Claude Monet was a founder of the French Impressionist painting and the most prolific and consistent practitioners of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perception as it is presented in nature. This included en plein air or plein air painting, an art form where the painter works outdoors in the lap of nature and painted the views presented by nature rather than painting an artificially created set.

Claude Monet
Although most of the paintings made by Monet are displayed in museums across the globe, the Musée de L'Orangerie houses his final masterpiece, Nymphéas, which he wanted to give to France as a gift.


Every wondered why the Impressionist movement is called so? The impressionist movement started with a painting called the Impression, Soleil Levant by Claude Monet. This painting depicts a sunrise at the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown, with two small boats in the sea and a red sun in the sky. Surprisingly, the term was coined by a famous art critic, Louis Leroy, in his satirical review of the painting style.

Impression, Soleil Levant
This art movement was characterised by relatively small, thin yet visible brush strokes, open composition, accurate description of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and unusual visual angles.

Musée de l'Orangerie

The Musée de L'Orangerie was built originally in 1852 to shelter the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries. In 1921, the administration of the Beaux-Arts decided to assign to the Direction des Musées Nationaux (as it was then called) the two buildings overlooking the Place de la Concorde, the Jeu de Paume, and the Orangerie.
Since Monet had earlier indicated that he wished to donate some decorative murals to symbolize an end of the first World War, he was suggested by Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister during the war, that he install the painting in the Orangerie. After visiting the place, Monet completely fell in love with it. Not only does the museum overlook the Seine river, but it also is located in the peaceful garden of the Tuileries. Since the garden was right next to one of the busiest crossings in Paris, it completely symbolized the Nymphéas (Water Lillies) as a peacful place in the midst of all the commotion. Monet spent several years painting and conceptualizing the installation of the Nymphéas and finally it went on display at the Musée de L'Orangerie in May, 1927, just a few months after Monet's death.
Apart from the Nymphéas, the museum also contains the works of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Alfred Sisley, Chaim Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo.

Musée de L'Orangerie


Nymphéas or Water Lilies is a series of 250 oil paintings made by Claude Monet. During the last 30 years of his life, Monet concentrated all his energy to complete this series while trying his best to not to lose his eyesight, which kept declining almost to the extent of complete blindness. Nevertheless, Monet wanted to present to France a set of decorative murals to symbolize the end of the Frist World War. The Water Lilies, being the perfect embodiment of peace, calm and harmony was the perfect present. The work consists of twelve murals displayed on the walls of two conjoined oval rooms. These long murals give a feeling of being surrounded by water lilies in a calm and quiet atmosphere. The two oval rooms join together at the center to make the infinity symbol to represent endless peace and tranquility.

Nymphéas at Musée de L'Orangerie

Alhough Claude Monet was one of the most influential painters of his era, his final years were not as rosy as one would imagine. In 1911, Monet's wife, Alice, passed away. Just a few years later in 1914, he lost his son Jean. After Jean's demise, Monet was left with only his daughter-in-law Blanche, who took good care of him. As a final blow, during these years Monet also started developing cataracts. This was a huge setback since Monet's skills were highly dependent on his eyesight and with each passing year it just got worse. In the midst of the all the commotion from the first World War and a moribund eyesight, Monet needed a lot of perseverence and determination to complete this piece of work. 
There was a time when the enemy forces had reached just 6km from Monet's place of work. However, determined as ever he decided not to abandon his place and keep working till the piece is complete. Finally, after years of perseverance, the work was finished and it was decided to display these murals at the Musée de L'Orangerie.
Monet died on 5 December, 1926 of lung cancer. But his legend still lives in all his paintings. 

"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."
-Claude Monet