Monet's Sunset Years: Retreating to Nature
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Monet's Sunset Years: Retreating to Nature

In Claude Monet's late work, architectural elements are rare – with the exception of his Japanese bridge which serves to connect nature and culture. It plays a vital role in Monet's painting 'The Water-Lily Pond' (1899) that is currently on display at The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet & Architecture. 

Claude Monet's first source of inspiration was nature. Even though he became a painter of modern life, nature never left him and would also be his last subject. This is evident in his final series of paintings of buildings, made in Venice in 1908. Monet excludes from his views the tourists and signs of modern technology encroaching upon the city, focusing primarily on the ever-changing movements of the sky and clouds, and the effects of light on the surface of water or on the walls of the buildings. The resulting views contrast greatly with the busy cityscapes of modern Paris, filled with bustling human activity, which the artist had made forty years earlier. 

Monet & Architecture

Monet retreating to nature by Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post 1800 Paintings at the National Gallery in London

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Creating his ideal world

The pictures Monet painted back at home in Giverny, where the artist had moved in 1883, likewise reveal his intense retreat into nature. A decade after his arrival in this small Normandy village, Monet acquired a piece of land located on the other side of the railway line. To create his ideal water garden, Monet diverted the narrow arm of the river Epte to create a pond, which he filled with a hybrid species of water-lily, and over which he built a bridge in the Japanese style. Monet referred to his garden as his 'greatest work of art'; it became a refuge for the artist, particularly after the death of his second wife Alice in 1911, and during the years of the First World War. 

The Japanese bridge, the water-lilies and the flowers of his gardens became his main subjects in his later years. Monet's water-lilies inspired more than 250 paintings, in which he focused on representing the clouds and weeping willows reflected on the surface of the pond. Water-lilies float over the water in small, vividly-painted touches of color. Monet became increasingly fascinated with the reflections forming on the pond's surface, like a motif emerging on a painter's canvas.

Admired by the advocates of Abstract Expressionism

At the very end of his life, at the request of his friend the politician Georges Clemenceau, Monet undertook a cycle of large-format paintings of water-lilies. These huge canvases were installed at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris in 1927, six months after Monet's death. They contributed in a major way to his lasting international fame, especially amongst subsequent generations of painters such as the Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, who related to the ground-breaking modernity in the expressive and colorful qualities of Monet's late images of nature.