As widely recognized as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, one of Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lilies” paintings has made its debut at the Speed Art Museum, 2035 S Third St.
“Even if you don’t know much about art, Monet is a household name,” says Erika Holmquist-Wall, curator of the Speed Art Museum. “A work by Monet, of this caliber, has never been exhibited in the Speed’s lifetime. To be able to come here and see it in person is a really big deal.”
Currently on loan from an anonymous collection, ‘Nymphéas’, one of the earliest versions of the painter’s famous water lily subjects, is at the center of Gallery 13 at the Speed. The painting, one of 25 in Monet’s first series of water lilies, captures the complex relationships between water, reflections and light and is a beautiful meditation on the passing of a moment in time.
“Impressionism is about taking the same subject and painting it under different light and atmospheric conditions,” Holmquist-Wall told The Courier Journal. “The artist works as quickly as possible to capture an impression set in a moment or moment.”
Monet began painting water lilies in the 1890s after moving to Giverny, France. The famous impressionist never had to travel far to find the subjects he loved to paint. The artist, who was also a master gardener, organized his property in Giverny as if it were a huge painting. With a team of assistants, he built a lush Japanese lily pond with gardens around it. “Nymphéas”, which he painted in 1897, represents one of Monet’s first explorations of the theme of the lily pond. It became a subject that the artist devoted himself to for the rest of his life.
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According to Holmquist-Wall, “after the first series of water lilies, he put them away until World War I, when he was inspired to revisit the series.”
For the next 30 years, until his death in 1925, the French Impressionist painted hundreds of canvases of various sizes, filled with images of his backyard lily ponds. Depending on the time of day and season, the color palette of each of his water lily paintings varied according to the sunlight. In later years, the artist’s eyesight began to deteriorate, but he continued to create. During this time, his painting style became more abstract, perhaps because cataracts had clouded his vision.
He donated a series of huge 6-meter-long water lily panoramas, which are in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France, to the French state as a symbol of peace on Armistice Day in 1918, the day that, in fact, brought an end to the world war,” said Holmquist-Wall.
Every day, the huge Water Lilies exhibit at the museum in Paris is visited by hundreds of visitors who see them as Monet intended, as an immersive, meditative experience. While the Monet exhibit at the Speed is small in comparison, it’s interesting to consider that without ‘Nymphéas’ there might not have been a future collection of Water Lilies to enjoy at the Musée de l’Orangerie. The first series of paintings of which “Nymphéas” is a part inspired all of Monet’s future art.
At the Speed, Holmquist-Wall placed “Nymphéas” on a wall opposite a previous work by Monet, “The Church at Varengeville-sur-Mer, Gray Weather.” The recently restored painting of a church on a hill overlooking the ocean is a permanent piece in the museum’s collection and was created ten years before Monet began working from the banks of his lily pond at his home in Giverny.
The temporary exhibit also includes a selection of photographs by Stephen Shore, taken from the lily pond and grounds at Monet’s home.
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“I recommend using your senses for a work of art like ‘Nymphéas’, especially if it’s a work dedicated to a single moment,” said Speed’s curator. “Breathe in and let your eyes relax and you’ll find yourself looking below the surface of water lilies growing underwater. At this point, you can almost hear bees buzzing and feel the pond’s sunlight twinkling.”
On loan to the Speed until February 2023, “Nymphéas” is a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s finest pieces of impressionism from the 19th-century art movement, without having to travel far from home.
“We were able to obtain this beautiful painting from collectors in the region and are delighted with their interest in sharing this priceless painting with us and our communities,” said Speed Director Raphaela Platow in a press release. “We are honored to present this beautiful early painting of a water lily by one of the most celebrated artists in collaboration with our painting by Claude Monet and to celebrate the summer months through the artist’s attentive eyes.”
Holmquist-Wall agreed, saying: “It’s really an invitation to dive into the moment of time that Monet captured with simple materials, pigment on canvas. I think that That is the alchemy and magic of art. And now it’s really incredible to be able to experience this in person.”
Reach reporter Kirby Adams at [email protected]
Visit the Speed Art Museum
WHERE: 2035 South Third St.WHEN: Friday 1 – 8 pm, Saturday 10 am – 5 pm, Sunday 10 am – 5 pm COST: MembersandFrontline Healthcare Workers: FreeAdults: $15Seniors (ages 60+): $10Children 4-17 years: $10Children 3 years and under: FreeMORE INFORMATION:Speedmuseum.org, 502-634-2700