France 1840 – 1926
Waterlily pond, green harmony
[Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte] 1899
oil on canvas
canvas 89.0 (h) x 93.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo 1911
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Aside from painting and gardening, I'm good for nothing.—Claude Monet1
Not only did Monet create this painting, he also made everything depicted in it. Monet had settled in Giverny in 1883, with Alice Hoschedé and their large, melded family. By 1890 he had enough funds to buy their home of seven years, and in 1893 he acquired further land, adjacent to the house. Diverting a small stream, Monet began work on the famous pond and magnificent gardens which consumed his attention, providing the main subject for his work, until his death in 1926.
In 1899 Monet painted twelve canvases, mostly square-format, of the pond in different light conditions but from the same vantage point; a further six paintings, in which he shifted his position to include the left side of the bridge, followed in 1900. In these works he celebrates his garden of massed flowering plants, with the water visible through the leaves and flowers, showing reflections of the sky, and of the willows, reeds and other foliage around the pond. This painting is one of those exhibited at Durand-Ruel in November–December 1900. In his review, Gustave Geffroy described
a minuscule pool where some mysterious corollas blossom … calm immobile, rigid, and deep like a mirror, upon which white water lilies blossom forth, a pool surrounded by soft and hanging greenery which reflects itself in it.2
In Waterlily pond¸ green harmony, from his first extended group of paintings of his water garden, Monet compresses the space. He uses the Japanese bridge to anchor his composition but the bridge is truncated so that it no longer links the banks, appearing instead to levitate above the pond.3 Its arch bisects the canvas, the upper half rendered in an array of greens, grey-blue and pale yellows, while in the lower half he uses a tapestry of pale blues, greens and pinks to convey the waterlilies. The surface of the pond—the horizontal marks and small dabs of the waterlilies and pads interrupted by vertical strokes of greens, yellows and white of the reflections of the vegetation above—seems almost thick enough to walk over. There is only the slightest suggestion of sky, as Monet deftly closes off the background, and all sides of the scene. Along the bottom edge of the canvas, patches of scumbled maroon and violet paint—and a fringe of green grass down the right side—suggest the bank of the pond. In later series Monet foregoes the bridge, banks, and indeed any material context for the pond, in order to concentrate on the surface of the water and the reflections within.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Maurice Kahn, ‘Claude Monet’s garden’, Le Temps, 7 June 1904, quoted in Charles F. Stuckey, Monet: a retrospective, Sydney: Bay Books 1985, p. 245.
- Gustave Geffroy, Le Journal, 26 November 1900, quoted in Steven Z. Levine, Monet, Narcissus and self-reflection: the modernist myth of self, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago 1994, p. 194.
- Paul Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet: life and art, New Haven: Yale University Press 1995, p. 181.