A blueprint for abstraction
“Monet taught me to understand what a revolution in painting can be,” proclaimed the surrealist painter André Masson. “Only with Monet does painting take a turn. He dispels the very notion of form that has dominated us for millennia. He bestows absolute poetry on color”.
In the water lily paintings, Monet eschewed traditional perspective, concentrating his gaze on the surface of the pond. The results were a dazzling, disintegrating, and for the time radically daring, vision. “The water-flowers themselves are far from being the whole scene,” Monet explained. “Really, they are just the accompaniment. The essence of the motif is the mirror of water, whose appearance alters at every moment.”
With the large-scale Nymphéas that he embarked on after 1914, Monet pushed this bold handling to a whole new scale. Photographs indicate that the artist had his vast canvases carted to the edge of the lily pond, where he would paint on them in the shade of his garden parasol, using new brushes and an oversized palette that he had procured especially for this project.
The works become less and less about constituent elements and orientation, and more about the energetic gestures of paintbrush and pigment. It’s the last, flurried hurrah of Impressionism, and for Rothko, Pollock and their Abstract Expressionist friends, a profound inspiration. There is no frame, no single resting place for the eye, only an immersion in planes and passages of colour. “All the normal markers have disappeared”, says MoMa curator Ann Temkin, “you become lost in this expanse of water and of light.”