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Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images
Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images

15 Facts About Monet's Water Lilies

Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images
Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images

Claude Monet's Water Lilies is beloved around the world, a radiant example of French Impressionism and the glory found in nature. But their path from the artist’s yard to museum walls was one paved with obstacles, perfectionism—and a lot of gardening. 

1. Water Lilies is not one painting by Monet. 

The title Water Lilies refers to a series by the father of French Impressionism. Over the course of the series, Monet painted countless individual water lilies in around 250 oil paintings. 

2. Before he painted Water Lilies, Monet planted them.

The beauty of the French village Giverny struck Monet when he passed through on a train. The artist was so inspired that in 1883 he rented a house there; it would become his home in 1890 (which was as soon as he could afford it). 

When he wasn't painting the plant life on his property, Monet was remodeling its landscapes and gardens to better inspire his work, or as he put it, “I’m good for nothing except painting and gardening.” Basically, he created the perfect place for quiet reflection, then spent the rest of his days capturing it in oils.

3. There would be no water lilies if Monet had obeyed the city council. 

The ambitious painter imported water lilies for his Giverny garden from Egypt and South America, which drew the ire of local authorities. The council demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the area's water, but (thankfully) Monet ignored them. 

4. These paintings were the focus of Monet's later life. 

Commenting on what he called his "water landscapes," Monet once declared, "One instant, one aspect of nature contains it all." No wonder he dedicated much of the last 30 years of his life to painting them, forging on even when cataracts began threatening his vision in 1912.  

5. Monet's Japanese footbridge is the focus in 17 paintings.

In 1899, Monet completed setting the scene of his pond, despite his neighbors' protests. Across it, he built a quaint Japanese-style bridge. Monet was apparently quite pleased with how it turned out, as he painted the structure 17 times that very year, with each painting reflecting changes in lighting and weather conditions. 

6. Monet's Water Lilies earned scorn in his lifetime.

Critics called the Impressionist paintings messy and suggested the works were less about a creative vision than Monet's blurred vision. As his eyes were failing, critics sneered at Monet's color palette and his argument that his depiction of flora, water, and light was an artistic choice, spurring an initial disdain of Monet's now-revered series. 

7. The rise of Abstract Expressionism resurrected interest in Water Lilies. 

For 20 years following Monet's death in 1926, his Water Lilies series was largely ignored, with many paintings sitting forgotten in his Giverny studio. But in the 1950s, curators rediscovered Monet, crediting him with paving the path to the fashionable art of the day. By 1955, the Museum of Modern Art had purchased their first Monet from this series, and it quickly became one of the famed museum’s most popular holdings. 

8.  Some Water Lilies were lost to fire.

In 1958, a terrible fire broke out at MoMA. While many paintings were saved, including Georges-Pierre Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte —1884, six were damaged. Two of these were recently acquired Water Lilies works. The loss devastated art lovers, who sent sympathy letters to the museum. In 1959 MoMA got another crack at owning part of the series when it acquired a massive Water Lilies triptych.

9. Others were lost to Monet's frustration. 

Sometimes the painter's passion turned violent. In 1908, Monet destroyed 15 of his Water Lilies right before they were to be exhibited at the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris. Apparently, the artist was so unhappy with the paintings that he decided to ruin them rather than have the work go on public display. 

10. Monet became a perfectionist about his paintings near the end of his life.

Considering how cruel his critics were, it's little wonder that in his later years Monet became incredibly selective about which paintings he would sign and attempt to sell. Just four paintings made the grade in 1919. One of those lucky few can now be seen on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  

11. Water Lilies became increasingly focused on the surface of the water. 

Over the years spent painting his beloved aquatic garden, Monet moved closer and closer to it. The edges of his pond moved to the edges of the frame and beyond until he had cut out the horizon altogether. From there, his works became a study of water and how it reflects light and the world above it. 

12. His large Water Lilies were intended to envelop the viewer. 

In 1918, Monet completed a series of 12 paintings he intended to be laid out side by side in a specially made oval room where viewers could step in and be given (as he put it) "the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank." Monet said these were meant to create "the refuge of a peaceful meditation in the center of a flowering aquarium." Today three such panels (displayed as a triptych) are on display at New York's Museum of Modern Art, measuring more than 6 feet by 41 feet.

13. Monet celebrated the end of World War I by giving France Water Lilies. 

On the day after Armistice Day in 1918, Monet promised his homeland a “monument to peace” in the form of massive water lily paintings.

14. In Paris, you can see Water Lilies as Monet intended. 

In exchange for some of Monet's grandest works, the nation honored him by displaying these at the Musée de l'Orangerie, just as he dreamed. Two specially made oval exhibition rooms were built to house his massive Water Lilies, creating a complete panorama of the painter's favorite views. 

15. Water Lilies broke from impressionism’s standards.

As MoMA curator Ann Temkin explains:

In early Impressionism you had these views of nature where you were out looking at a seaside or out looking at a field and there were markers of location that you could understand, "Here I am as a person. Here's the view that the painter is portraying for me." With the Water Lily panels, he's changed it completely so that rather than you being larger than the view that you're looking at on an easel-sized canvas, somehow you have become immersed in the scene of this water lily pond. All the normal markers, like the edge of the water or the sky or the distant trees, have disappeared, and you’re just right in the face of those water lilies and the surface of the water with the clouds reflected from above you become lost in this expanse of water and of light.

In this way, Monet's unique vision forever changed Impressionism, creating a new form that inspired untold artists and admirers.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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