Water Lilies

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Claude Monet

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Water Lilies

Claude Monet. Water Lilies. 1914-26. Oil on canvas, 6' 6 1/2" x 19' 7 1/2" (199.5 x 599 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund

Audio Program excerpt

Monet's Water Lilies

September 13, 2009–April 12, 2010

Curator, Ann Temkin: We're looking at a single panel of the Water Lilies, And if you look at that surface, where it's almost in some cases like a skin, what you begin to realize is that these are actually paintings that are built up of many, many, in fact probably countless layers of paint. And, what that shows you is that these were things that were made over the course of many months and in some cases, many years.

Monet had a lot of paintings going at once and he would nurture them, like the flowers in the garden, keeping them watered over the weeks and months that he spent with them. And so, the character of these becomes time, in a way. The paint that you're looking at is part of a story, much of which is invisible to you.

With the Impressionist canvases that Monet would have painted in the 1870s, for example, with just little strokes of paint, enunciating the outlines of a body or the field of poppies or a blue sky, you would have had a feeling of the artist at work in a very immediate way. By the time he was an older man, Monet wasn't interested in immediacy. He was interested in immortality and posterity, and the idea that life is short, but art is long. It slows you down. His painting would slow down, water slows us down in some ways, and he wanted to slow you down.