Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Nymphéas (fragment)

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Nymphéas (fragment)
oil on canvas
22 1/8 x 15 3/8 in. (59 x 39 cm.)
Estate of the artist.
Michel Dedecker, France (December 1980).
Galerie Tuffier, Les Andelys, (1981).
Patrick Blanchon, Paris.
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, 21 May 1982, lot 304.
Leonard Andrews, Malvern, Pennsylvania (acquired at the above sale).
Private collection, Maine (acquired from the above, 1990); Estate sale, Skinner, Boston, 13 May 2016, lot 326.
Acquired at the above sale by present owner.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index, Paris, 1991, vol. V, p. 181 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note that the present lot is displayed with a loaner frame for the exhibition, which is available for purchase.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

In the early stages of modernism, France was subjected to a number of consequential changes: internal and external political unrest, a series of radical technological inventions and an immense opening to the rest of the world informed by the Expositions Universelles. In particular, access to the newly opened Japan would have a profound effect on artists working at this time, including Monet. The painter amassed a large collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, the title of which literally translates to “pictures of a floating world.” Monet was deeply impacted by their delicate fusing of color and form as well as by the underlying spiritual and philosophical processes imbued in them, including the act of repetition to achieve a unified body of work. Monet was not a stranger to working within a theme; his poplars and Argenteuil series are proof of that much. Yet never before had he delved into a single subject with such totality as he did with his final series, the Nymphéas. The very notion of wanting to immortalize something as fleeting as a scene highly dependent upon light, weather, and season alludes to Japanese aesthetics. In particular to wabi-sabi which can be understood as the pursuit of beauty in all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
Monet and his family had moved to Giverny in April 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny at the time was a quiet, picturesque farming community of just 279 residents. Upon his arrival there, Monet rented a large, pink stucco house on two acres of land. When the property came up for sale in 1890, Monet purchased it at the asking price of 22,000 francs, "certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside," as he wrote to Durand-Ruel (Letter 1079). He immediately set to work tearing up the existing kitchen garden and planting lush flower beds on the gentle slope in front of the house. Monet had been an enthusiastic gardener all his life, and at Giverny he finally enjoyed the means to fulfill this passion completely. He employed as many as six gardeners, consulted with friends like Gustave Caillebotte and Octave Mirbeau who shared his love of gardening, subscribed to horticultural magazines and encyclopedias, imported rare plants and seeds from around the world, and even received the advice of a Japanese gardener who traveled to Giverny in 1891 at Monet's request. Early in 1893, three years after commencing work on the flower garden, Monet acquired an adjacent plot of land between the railroad tracks and the river Ru. By autumn, he had converted nearly one thousand square meters into a lavish lily pond, spanned by a wooden footbridge and ringed by an artful arrangement of flowers, trees, and bushes. Silent, mysterious, and contemplative, the water garden took its inspiration from the east, a feature that Monet accentuated by planting bamboo, ginkgo trees, and Japanese fruit trees around the pond.
Although Monet created the lily pond in part to fulfill his passion for gardening, he also intended it as a source of artistic inspiration. Widely hailed as landmarks of late Impressionism, his Nympéas paintings constitute some of the most innovative and influential works of Monet's entire oeuvre. The present example is quiet and contemplative; its style is as organic as the garden it is meant to mirror. It is in constant movement as if the brushstrokes hadn’t yet fully settled on the canvas, creating the appearance of a superimposition of two distinct planes: the flattened background made of sweeping brushstrokes which give the work its vibrating boundaries of color, and lighter strokes like flickers of light upon which the aquatic vegetation is gently suspended.
These late pictures of Monet’s cherished waterlilies culminated in the celebrated friezes now hanging in their specially-tailored environment in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. They were initially met with mixed reactions; however, they now are regarded as some of the most important works of art of the 20th century and hang in many of the world’s greatest museums. These innovative, trailblazing icons manage to be searingly modern while conveying a vivid sense of the undulations of the surface of the water and the bobbing waterlilies.

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