In the 1920’s, about 30-ish years before Jackson Pollock made a splash with his ‘Autumn Rhythm’, Claude Monet retreated to his studio in Giverny, in the North of France, to start his series of ‘Water Lilies’.
Painting about 250 of these monumental works – some panels measuring more than 6 feet by 41 feet – while suffering from cataracts, Monet broke away from the Impressionist tradition with these rather more abstract pieces. He tried to catch the light and the dark in just such a way that a viewer’s attention is drawn to the painting itself, not simply the scene depicted. He blurred the line between the lilies and the reflections, giving them equal visual importance, thus letting the setting evaporate and leaving the viewer with a sense of looking at fragmented forms as a result of his broken brushwork.
His contemporary critics didn’t like it much, and the ‘Water Lilies’ series were largely ignored, not even selling well, until after Monet’s death. In 1955, Alfred Barr, then director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, bought one of Monet’s large Water Lily panels, presenting the French painter’s work as “a bridge between the naturalism of early Impressionism and the highly developed school of Abstract Art”.
Comparing Monet’s work to works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler and even Ellsworth Kelly, the unlikely scenery of Monet’s masterworks were considered precursors to the energetic, pigmented and emotive work of the Abstract Expressionists.
This precise moment in time, when aesthetic links were made and contexts shaped, is the focus of an exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie that selects some of Monet’s later works and shows them alongside around twenty major paintings by some of the aforementioned American artists.