The quintessential modernity of Monet’s cherished Nymphéas paintings, which culminated in the trailblazing friezes now hanging in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, convey a vivid impression of the undulations of the surface of the water and the bobbing water lilies that filled the pond in the artist’s garden at Giverny. This subject marked the beginning of a new artistic odyssey that would occupy Monet for the rest of his life, and which would result in his most bracing, beautiful and abstract explorations of colour and light.
A Nymphéas fragment provides a particular sense of abstraction, because it is by its own nature an abstraction: a close-up detail, random, isolated from the whole yet recognizable, evocative in and of itself. In the present fragment a single spot on the surface of the artist's renowned lily-pond is captured in thickly applied green and blue paint; stripped of superfluous detail, it focuses completely on the aquatic foliage and the quicksilver-like water. Never was the artist's brushstroke so free, so detached from the definition of forms, to the point that the details of the plants and their reflections disappear amidst the vigorous, gestural strokes of paint. The subtle combination of colours and textures demonstrated in this fragment provide a glimpse into the rich surroundings which inspired Monet on a daily basis, and their ability to provoke experimentation in his work. The contrast between the flowing green, swirls of ochre and thick turquoise blue add to the illusion of depth and hint at the expressive brushstrokes of future abstract painters. The areas of raw canvas and partially unfinished borders accentuate this insistence on painting as a surface covered with paint, a quality that solidifies Monet's status as a master of modernism and the abstract gesture, decades before the emergence of Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg.