"Imagine," Monet said to a writer friend in 1898, "a circular room...covered with [paintings of] water, dotted with these [water lily] plants to the very horizon, walls of a transparency alternately green and mauve, the calm and silence of the still waters reflecting the open blossoms. The tones are vague, deliciously nuanced, with a dreamlike delicacy."
Monet realized this dream in his water lily decorations for the Orangerie, the former greenhouse in the Tuileries gardens in Paris. This enormous panel, one of six this size, was conceived as part of that project, which occupied him until his death in 1926. Changes in Monet's plans prevented the inclusion of the panel, and the painting remained in his studio for thirty years after his death.
The panel's heroic dimensions and tranquil beauty encourage reverie. The cropping of the lily pads and flowers at every edge, the partial reflection of the willow tree on the right, and the watery path that opens from the bottom to the top of the canvas make this aquatic paradise appear to extend beyond the frame and even beyond the scope of the viewer's sight.
The green and mauve that Monet envisioned are amply present here but are woven into a complex array of yellows, pinks, whites, deep blues, and ochers. Monet has revealed his hand at work in brush-strokes that are part of the aesthetic whole, reminders of the process of painting as well as embodiments of the forms Monet is describing. For example, where the water lilies are most thickly painted they appear to float on the reflections and on the open spaces, their swirled lines, created by a loaded brush, contributing to their suppleness.
The complexity of these forms reminds the viewer that the painting, like all of Monet's work, is the product of calculation and labor. What is more, Monet planned and built at his home in Giverny the elaborate water garden that is his subject. That his water garden reflected his intense personal and artistic efforts enhances the poignancy of Monet's painting.