Since Claude Monet’s celebrated “Sunrise, Impression” aquatic reflections became a common motif in impressionist painting. It seems that the mutability of water is inherently impressionistic: the ripples and the mirrored colors — all in continuous motion — suggest themselves naturally as subject matter for a style that strives to capture the passing and the momentary.
In a series of works depicting his garden at Giverny, Monet exploits these water qualities to a full extent. The artist paints a pond that is covered in floating lilies, overlooked by a Japanese bridge, and surrounded by lush vegetation, all reflected. It is a setting that could be mistaken for a primordial jungle had the arching wooden structure not revealed signs of cultivation.
Unlike the Haystack and the Poplar Series — which feature an open landscape — this is a closed composition. Here the trees, the luscious banks, and the water envelop a pocket of air, trapping it in the center along with the Japanese bridge. This bubble of air absorbs all the scents and colors, rendering the tropical atmosphere almost palpable. The richness and sweetness of the palette transcend color, assuming properties of smell and taste. Reflected by the glassy surface and mixed with the nearby lying flowers, the hues blend into a luxuriant visual nectar, inducing a powerful hypnotic effect.
Mirrored trees and surface-bound lilies create a complex visual grid: interspersed one with the other, they produce an “inverted sky” effect, where islands of blooms act as clouds. In comparison, the actual sky in the Poplar series presents a much more restrained, sobering opposite — air has more space to move around, change, and “breathe;” here water absorbs everything insatiably, displaying a saturated, static view. Indeed, if it were not for the underlying sense of elegance and refinement that’s more akin to Gallic (Japanese inspired) rather than African vision of nature, these scenes would appear menacing.
An important motif that lends the paintings some dynamic becomes the vista. It opens up before the viewers, coils idly, and lures again and again — into Monet’s magical world.
*this article has been edited at a later date