Everyone knows Claude Monet’s world-famous paintings of water lilies. But how many have seen these explosions of colour in person and lost themselves in the reflections of Monet’s water lily pond, no longer certain where the water begins and the sky ends? The last large-scale Monet exhibition in the Netherlands was held thirty years ago. Many of the paintings of his famous garden have never been shown in this country, so it is high time for a major tribute. Monet – The Garden Paintings brings together no fewer than forty masterpieces from collections across the globe. Monet painted them in preparation for his magnum opus: the Grandes Décorations. At the centre of the exhibition is one of the most popular paintings in the Kunstmuseum’s collection: Wisteria. This survey is the follow-up to the groundbreaking Monet retrospective mounted by the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (then the Haags Gemeentemuseum) in 1952, which contributed to the rediscovery of Monet’s works.
‘These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. They are beyond the powers of an old man, and I nevertheless want to succeed in rendering what I perceive. I destroy them… I recommence them… and I hope that from so many efforts, something will come out.’
Creation of a paradise
Claude Monet (1840-1926) was forty-two years old when he moved to Giverny in 1883. He would continue to live in this small village near Vernon until his death in 1926. He created two gardens there: a flower garden and a water garden with a pond filled with water lilies, inspired by traditional Japanese gardens. Monet consciously opted for exotic plants such as bamboo, water lilies (he first saw coloured water lilies resistant to the European cold at the Exposition Universelle of 1889) and wisteria. He constructed a typical Japanese bridge above the narrow part of his pond.
At Giverny, Monet increasingly shut himself off from the outside world and concentrated on depicting his garden. Between 1883 and 1926 he painted the reflections on his water lily pond hundreds of times. The first of these paintings were in the tradition of Impressionism, but over time Monet employed an increasingly expressive visual idiom. He rejected any suggestion of depth and no longer required his subject to be recognisable. Instead of depicting fleeting moments, Monet's monumental garden paintings exude an atmosphere of timelessness. This makes the Giverny period not only the most productive of Monet’s life but also one in which he underwent an important artistic development. The old painter, a pioneer in the nineteenth century for his role in Impressionism, succeeded in reinventing himself in the twentieth century.
Watch the film by Maarten Kroon about Monet's Giverny (25 minutes)
Monet’s wife Alice died in 1911. His sorrow was compounded the following year when he was diagnosed with cataracts and was forced to stop working. He did not resume painting until 1914. Then, at the age of seventy-four and encouraged by his friend, the statesman Georges Clémenceau, and his stepdaughter and daughter-in-law, Blanche Hoschedé-Monet, Monet began his final and greatest masterpiece: the Grandes Decorations. Monet envisaged a vast circular installation of water lily paintings that would completely surround and immerse the viewer in his world of reflections. Ultimately, the work would be donated to the French people to mark the end of the First World War.
Above the installation of water lily paintings, Monet wanted to create a decorative frieze of paintings of wisteria. But when he was assigned the existing Orangerie building in Paris, the frieze did not fit. In his search for the perfect ensemble, Monet painted hundreds of canvases. He experimented with format, colour, materials and technique. Over the years, he added works to the series and destroyed others that he considered unsuccessful. The project had become an obsession that he was unable to let go of. His Grandes Décorations was finally installed in the current Musée de l’Orangerie only after his death. The many canvases not included in the installation were left behind in his studio.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in Dutch and English editions with essays by Benno Tempel, director of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Frouke van Dijke, curator at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Marianne Mathieu, director of Musée Marmottan Monet (Uitgeverij Hannibal, Dutch edition €24.95, English edition €32.50).
Children’s art book
‘De tuin van Monet’ (Monet’s Garden) by Kaatje Vermeire (Ghent, 1981) is the latest volume in the popular series of children’s books that the Kunstmuseum Den Haag publishes in partnership with Leopold. Plants, flowers, trees and animals play an important role in many of Vermeire’s illustrated books. In her latest offering, readers are welcomed to Monet’s garden by the artist himself. The book (ISBN 9789025878221) is available for €15.99 in the museum shop and in bookshops nationwide.
We have made an audio guide app for those visitors who want more information than is provided in the gallery texts. Visitors can download the app to their smartphones free of charge and delve deeper into Monet’s story.
This exhibition has been organised with the exceptional support of the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. It has been made possible in part by the Dutch State: the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands has granted government indemnity on behalf of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The Cultural Heritage Agency has also contributed to research into the painting Wisteria in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. The Kunstmuseum is grateful for the financial support of the Mondriaan Fund, the Turing Foundation and the Blockbuster Fund for both the exhibition and the accompanying publication
You can buy tickets for Monet - The Garden Paintings online. During the run of the exhibition, a supplement of € 3,50 applies for the entire museum. Friends of the museum do not have to pay this supplement.
Ursula Palla – The Floating Sky
The Floating Sky is a site-specific response to the exhibition Monet – The Garden paintings. 526 acrylic glass mirrors drift on Berlage’s pond, reflecting the sky on the rippling surface of the water. Read more.