NEW YORK, NY.-
The Museum of Modern Art
presents Monets Water Lilies, an installation that will, for the first time since the Museum's reopening in 2004, feature the full group of Claude Monet's late paintings in the collection. These include a mural-sized triptych (Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond, c. 1920) and a single panel painting of the water lilies in the Japanese-style pond that Monet cultivated on his property in Giverny, France (Water Lilies, c. 1920), as well as The Japanese Footbridge (c. 1920-22) and Agapanthus (1918-19), depicting the majestic plants in the ponds vicinity. These works have long held a special status with the Museums audiences and, much like the MoMA's Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, these paintings provide a modern oasis in the center of midtown Manhattan. These works will be complemented by a few loans of closely related paintings. The exhibition, on view from September 13, 2009, to March 29, 2010, in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the second floor, is organized by Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art.
Monet (1840-1926) devoted the last 25 years of his life to the portrayal of the pond and its surroundings in Giverny. By the 1910s, his work centered on the creation of large-scale panels of the water lilies, a group of which he would donate to the French state for permanent installation in the Orangerie in Paris. After Monet's death, many of these last works remained in his studio, left under the care of the artist's son. But for two decades the art market and art historians reserved their interest for his earlier Impressionist work. The work of the 1910s and 1920s was regarded as far too messy and unstructured, and much of the work left in the studio was considered unfinished.
After the end of World War II, a sudden turnabout occurred, and art historians and curators focused keen attention on Monet's last paintings. In a quintessential case of contemporary art transforming attitudes toward earlier art history, the large scale and gestural freedom of Abstract Expressionism illuminated the late Monet as a predecessor of extraordinary relevance. In 1955 MoMA became the first public collection in the United States to acquire one of Monet's large-scale water lilies compositions. Since then, the history of their reception has been intertwined with the history of the Museum, both because of the water lilies' importance for scores of contemporary artists, and for the beloved position they hold for the general audience. The water lilies' special status was evident from the moment the first paintings came into the collection, but it was assured when in 1958, a fire at the Museum destroyed the two late paintings that founding MoMA director Alfred Barr, Jr., had acquired in 1955 and 1956. Widespread mourning for these two casualties spurred the Museum quickly to replace them with the triptych and single panel work in the present collection.