Monet's Water Lilies
October 2, 2011–January 22, 2012
Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926; Water Lilies, c.1916-26; oil on canvas; 78 3/4 x 167 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Steinberg Charitable Fund 134:1956
For the first time in over 30 years, The Saint Louis Art Museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and The Cleveland Museum of Art have collaborated to reunite the three panels of Agapanthus
as the artist himself intended.
triptych was inspired by Monet's pond in his famed garden at Giverny, just west of Paris. Monet himself gave the title Agapanthus
to the 42 foot triptych after the plant (also known as "African lily" or "Lily of the Nile"). His large-scale water-lily compositions represent the culminating achievement of his career, and were described by the artist as his Grand Decorations
Monet began work on these three massive canvases, each measuring approximately 7 feet by 14 feet, in about 1915, and continued to rework and obsessively change the composition of the triptych until his death more than 10 years later.
After Monet's death, the three panels of Agapanthus
remained in Monet's studio until the mid-1950s when they were acquired by the New York dealer Knoedler and Company and first exhibited in the United States in 1956. The three compositions were acquired by The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City between 1956 and 1960. There are only two Monet triptychs in the United States; the other is in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
The three sections were first reunited in the 1978 exhibition, Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism
, sponsored and exhibited by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The three canvases were joined together again at the Saint Louis Art Museum in a 1980 exhibition cosponsored by the three holding institutions.
In St. Louis, Monet's Water Lilies
includes two large-scale oil studies for the Agapanthus
triptych, on loan from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris and reunited with the triptych for the first time. The Agapanthus
, 1914–1917, and Water Lilies, Harmony in Blue
, 1914–1917, are studies for the right and left panels of the triptych, providing important insight into Monet's working methods.
With a total of eight paintings, the St. Louis presentation of Monet's Water Lilies
is curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art, and will also showcase two works from a private St. Louis collection. Wisteria Numbers 1 and 2
was intended by Monet to be part of the initial installation for his triptychs in a planned (but never realized) pavilion in the garden of what is now the Musée Rodin in France. The other private collection loan, Water Lilies
, was included along with Agapanthus
in the 1956 exhibit of Monet's work at the Knoedler Gallery in New York.
Claude Monet was the most important of all the Impressionist painters, and his water-lily paintings represent the culminating achievement of his career. Monet's famous garden at Giverny—illustrated in this book in a number of the artist's paintings and studies, as well as in archival photographs—provided the inspiration for these paintings. This book focuses on one of Monet's most impressive water-lily triptychs, Agapanthus
, executed between 1915 and 1926, and explores the fascinating and little-known history behind its creation.
Drawing on new technical analysis, the book examines the relationship between Agapanthus
and related studies, as well as Monet's incessant reworking of the triptych. It also provides new information on Monet's original plans for the work's installation in a museum dedicated to his art to be erected in the garden of the Musée Rodin, Paris. Also explored is the posthumous history of the triptych, including its critical reception when first exhibited in the United States in the mid-1950s and its subsequent splitting up into three separate compositions, which were acquired by three Midwestern museums: the Saint Louis Art Museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and The Cleveland Museum of Art. The book accompanies an exhibition that reunites the triptych panels for the first time in more than 30 years.
Simon Kelly is curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Among his many publications is a recent catalogue essay in Manet, The Man Who Invented Modernity
(2011). Mary Schafer is associate painting conservator at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Johanna Bernstein is a materials scientist at the Institute for Advance Materials, Devices, and Nanotechnology at Rutgers.
Curated in Kansas City and St. Louis by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art.
Monet's Water Lilies is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and The Cleveland Museum of Art. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support has been provided by Emerson. Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
Back to Archive