Claude Monet’s iconic ‘Waterlilies’ series, strikingly painted in smudged strokes of purple, blue and green oils, is instantly recognisable even to the most novice of French art fans. The Impressionist master dedicated the last 30 years of his life almost entirely to obsessively painting the Japanese-style pond in the garden of his home in Giverny, producing about 250 oils. But research for an upcoming exhibition at London’s Royal Academy reveals that a neighbourly dispute almost prevented the series from even beginning.
Monet had moved to Giverny in 1893 and planned to extend his garden, to the dismay of local farmers who wrote to the town hall that same year to object – as Ann Dumas, curator of Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, discovered after finding the original documents. The artist planned to divert the river Epte, a tributary of the Seine, to create a water garden.
Even the waterlilies themselves, which Monet planned to plant in his extended garden’s pond, were unpopular with the farmers. Not recognising the exotic plants, they were suspicious that they’d poison the water and kill their cattle.
The painter eventually gained planning permission for his garden, after much difficulty, and went on to create the water garden which would spawn one of the most revolutionary artistic series in the history of art. In emphasising the effect of light over subject matter, and painting en plein air, Monet re-defined the entire genre of landscape painting.
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse will exhibit 35 paintings by Monet as well as works by Auguste Renoir, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky. It will run at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, US from 11 October 2015 – 5 January 2016 before opening at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, from 30 January until 20 April 2016.