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Group: Giverny

Artist: Claude MONET
Birth/Death: 1840–1926

Title: Waterlilies
Date Made: 1908

Lender: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

Waterlilies depicts the channel of light between reflected trees in soft, milky tones. Monet here used closely related scales of dusky pinks, muted gold, and mother-of-pearl lavenders and violets, accented with sharper touches of red and blue-green in the waterlily islands. These abstract harmonies embody intensely observed effects. The colours are applied in delicate glazes, suggesting misty dawn light that is just beginning to suffuse the reflected trees with a tinge of gold, while the slight inflections of violet around the lowest island of leaves suggest the translucent depths of the water.

The closely related tones melt into one another in such a way that the eye seems to slip endlessly from one dimension into another — unlike the radical breaks between the planes in the 1907 works. The painting enacts a complex visual experience. As the eye moves up the painting what one recognises as a channel of reflected light, together with the sudden diminution in the size of the flowers, suggests that one is looking into deep space. Then, without a break, the eye may move down the painting, with the sense of looking onto water which reflects images of sky and trees that are above the viewer. And then, the darker lines below the leaves of the lowest waterlilies, and the darker patches of lavender between them, lure the eye into the depths of transparent water — even as one knows that it is thick paint.

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