Claude Monet. Water Lilies. 1914-26
Ann Temkin: When Abstract Expressionism became a popular mode of painting in the early 1950s all of a sudden the Water Lilies, which had been of little interest, became of great interest. It was as if a precursor to Abstract Expressionism had been lying there unnoticed.
Alfred Barr, the Head of Collections at MoMA bought one Water Lilies panel in 1955, the first to enter the collection. It became one of the most popular acquisitions the Museum had made in the twenty-five years of its history.
Narrator: The Museum acquired another panel in 1956. Two years later there was a fire in the Museum. Fortunately, there was a rapid response from the New York City Fire Department.
Ann Temkin: Virtually all of the collection and the works that were on loan there were saved from any damage. However, there were exceptions. And two of those exceptions were both of the Water Lily canvases. There was an outpouring of sympathy from all over the world. We have fantastic letters in our files from artists, from collectors, from ordinary citizens saying, "Oh, we are so sorry about the loss of those water lily paintings." What the Museum decided to do was to go back as quickly as possible to Paris and try to buy more. And indeed in 1959 the triptych that you see here was acquired with great fanfare and much relief on everyone's part.