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March 25: love them waterlilies

waterlilies with sky (c.1916)

Love Them Waterlilies

A baleful side effect of being required to read those thick, interminable classics in high school is that we absorb the notion that high culture can only be equated with what is most dreary and difficult, and that we must discount what is accessible and pleasurable. Claude Monet (1840-1926) suffers especially from this delusion. His work is so frankly decorative and accessible that while we flock to see his shows and delight in the many books and calendars featuring his work, we tend to overlook the originality, to say nothing of the resource and  audacity–the unbridled painterlyness– of his paintings.

Here is one of his many versions of waterlilies. It is freely, boldly drawn. The subtle but lively strokes of the brush are everywhere. Water, sky, clouds–all united as a rich and vivacious surface. No doubt the cavemen noticed waterlilies, and people have been looking at them ever since, but nobody painted anything like this before Monet.


On a side note, this piece was painted during World War I. The front was perhaps sixty miles from Giverny, where he lived and worked. He could probably sometimes hear the guns.