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Why did Monet paint water lilies?

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Quick Answer

According to experts at the Art Institute in Chicago, Claude Monet painted water lilies to capture the play of light and shadow on his garden pond. He is considered one of the most influential French painters associated with the Impressionist movement of the late 19th century.

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Full Answer

The Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests that the Barbizon painters, known for close observation of naturalistic scenes, likely inspired Monet. Monet's attention to the natural environment, combined with his Impressionist style, resulted in a unique artistry.

Monet was already respected for his work when he undertook a study of water lilies, which included many series paintings such as Haystacks in 1891, Poplars in 1892 and the Rouen Cathedral in 1894. In the late 19th century, he began painting what he called "water landscapes" of the garden at his farmhouse in Giverny. Monet had created the garden in 1890. It consisted of a flower garden near the farmhouse and a water garden formed by diverting a tributary of the Epte River.

Initially, Monet's depictions of the water garden were more traditional, with a mid-canvass horizon line framed by a fringe of trees and a Japanese footbridge. Experts at the Art Institute in Chicago note that by 1904, the horizon line was at the very top of the pictorial frame and more attention was paid to the play of light and shadow on the water lilies themselves. According to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, experts have equated the beautiful depiction of light and shadow on the water lily garden with poetry or music.

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