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  Monet Logo Bottom From the exhibition theme Reflections  

Modern Life Modern Vision
Forces of Nature
The Series
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Monet understood that a Japanese garden symbolised the essence of nature: water, mountains, forests in microcosm. His paintings of a fragment of the waterlily pool, reflecting in its depths the trees and the sky above, also expressed the wholeness of nature.

Early pictures of the pool painted in 1903–04 contain elements of the world beyond, willow branches or a distant bank, enabling the viewer to measure space. Later paintings represented nothing but water, reflections and the floating islands of waterlilies — a measureless space.

In 1914 Monet began planning huge stretches of painting that would surround the spectator, and which would represent the surface of the pool, sometimes framed by willows or curved banks.

His conception was undoubtedly influenced by the scale and format of the pairs of multi-fold Japanese screens that could then be seen in Paris. In such screens mist or clouds evoke a dissolving, fluctuating space. Sometimes the central panels seem to be empty, yet they draw the spectator into an infinite space.

Monet began painting his great six-metre long painting of the waterlily pool when he was over 80. Like some of the great Japanese screens, this is a painting of empty space, the space between reflective water and reflected sky — a nothingness into which individual consciousness dissolves.

The painted screens depicted here are of the type known in Japanese as byobu, literally meaning ‘protection against the wind’. These portable screens provided temporary division of interior spaces in traditional Japanese buildings where there were large open spaces and few walls. The combined painting surface of a number of panels allowed artists to work on large-scale compositions.

With the central section often free of the descriptive elements that frame a screen, artists could create an illusion of a broad expanse of space. Decorative painted screens were often covered with paper-thin sheets of gold or silver leaf to dazzling and ostentatious effect.

These fields of gold and silver decorated with paint symbolise aspects of nature such as sunshine or moonlight, day and night, and the changing seasons. The screens should be viewed from right to left in the traditional Japanese manner.