There’s a fine line between madness and genius. Indeed, I’m currently feeling like the madness side of the equation has taken hold of my brain, but sadly I’m missing the genius component. I know what I’m wanting to say, and yet my brain’s stuttering and I can’t quite get the story out. Meanwhile, Monet, the man who is rattling my brain, was a mixture of the two. Moving into his twilight years, Monet was a man not only possessed by his water lilies, but was also trying to create what could well have been his greatest gift to humanity.Yet, afflicted by failing eyesight and chronic self-doubt, he was floundering. Indeed, he wrote to a friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” So, I’m hoping that you’ll join me on another detour. One which could well be life-changing.
After visiting Monet’s stunning garden at Giverny, now we’re catching the train to Paris, where we’ll be meeting up at the Jardin de Tuilleries, not far from the Louvre. From there, we’ll be heading into the Gallerie de L’Orangerie to experience Monet’s incredible gift to the French nation and humanity…a spectacular series of water lily paintings. Monet gifted the paintings to the French nation on November 12, 1918, the day after Armistice and two days before his 78th birthday. Monet wasn’t only wanting to commemorate peace. He also wanted to create a peaceful place, where those shaken up by the war could rest their weary souls:
“You see, while shrapnel from mortars, grenades and, above all, artillery projectile bombs, or shells, accounted for an estimated 60 percent of the 9.7 million military fatalities of World War I, it was soon observed that many soldiers arriving at the casualty clearing stations who had been exposed to exploding shells, although clearly damaged, bore no visible wounds. Rather, they appeared to be suffering from a remarkable state of shock caused by blast force. This new type of injury, a British medical report concluded, appeared to be “the result of the actual explosion itself, and not merely of the missiles set in motion by it.” In other words, it appeared that some dark, invisible force had in fact passed through the air and was inflicting novel and peculiar damage to men’s brains.
The Gallerie de L’Orangerie explains his achievement:
“This unique set, a true “Sixtine of Impressionism”, in the words of André Masson in 1952, testifies to Monet’s later work. It was designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before. The set is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.”
It was in 1914, at the age of 74, when he had just lost his son and could see no hope for the future, that Monet felt a renewed desire to “undertake something on a grand scale” based on “old attempts”. In 1909, he had already told Gustave Geffroy that he wanted to see the theme of the water lilies “carried along the walls”. In June 1914, he wrote that he was “embarking on a great project”. This undertaking absorbed him for several years during which he was beset by obstacles and doubts, and when the friendship and support of one man proved decisive. This was the politician Georges Clemenceau. They met in 1860, lost touch, and met up again after 1908 when Clemenceau bought a property in Bernouville near Giverny. Monet shared Clemenceau Republican’s ideas, and we also know of Clemenceau’s keen interest in the arts. During the war, Monet continued his work alternately in the open air, when the weather was suitable, and in the huge studio that he had had built in 1916 with roof windows for natural light. On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, Monet wrote to Georges Clemenceau: “I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.” The painter, therefore, intended to give the nation a real monument to peace. At this time, when it was still not certain where the decorative series was destined, it seems that Clemenceau managed to persuade Monet to increase this gift from just two panels to the whole decorative series. In 1920, the gift became official and resulted, in September, in an agreement between Monet and Paul Léon, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, for the gift to the State of twelve decorative panels that Léon would undertake to install according to the painter’s instructions in a specific building. However, Monet, prey to doubt, continually reworked his panels and even destroyed some. The contract was signed on 12 April 1922 for the gift of 19 panels, but Monet, still dissatisfied, wanted more time to perfect his work. Clemenceau wrote to him in vain that year “you are well aware that you have reached the limit of what can be achieved with power of the brush and of the mind.” But, in the end, Monet would keep the paintings until his death in 1926. His friend Clemenceau then put everything into action to inaugurate the rooms for the Water Lilies in strict accordance with Monet’s wishes.http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/history-water-lilies-cycle
Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this exhibition when I was in Paris, and as I’ve mentioned before, with my love of expressionist art, I wasn’t as keen on Monet at the time. However, now I can just imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of that room surrounded by Monet’s lilies and the deep sense of peace and serenity which must fill the room, as though Picasso’s dove of peace had built its nest in there. It feels like a miracle.
Have you ever been to the Gallerie de l’Orangerie? What was it like? How did it feel? I’d love to hear from people who’ve experienced the collection first hand!