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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George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

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THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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