National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Claude Monet: The Series Paintings

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By the 1880s, the diverse artists most closely associated with impressionism moved into other modes of painting. Camille Pissarro experimented with neoimpressionism, whose adherents explored color theory and other scientific bases for their art. Auguste Renoir went to Italy and was inspired by works of the Renaissance to adopt a more classical style. And Monet began to explore the same subject repeatedly in what are known today as his series paintings: grainstacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral, and other subjects, some near his home, others in places where he traveled, such as England, Norway, and Italy. Finally, in the last decades of his life, Monet devoted his entire artistic attention to the lily pond in the garden he created at Giverny.

The series pictures diverged from the spontaneity of earlier impressionist work. Though Monet began them in front of his subject—often working on several canvases simultaneously—he spent many long hours reworking them in his studio, sometimes over a period of years. "The further I go," he wrote, "the better I see that it takes a great deal of work to succeed in rendering what I want to render: 'instantaneity,' above all the enveloppe, the same light spread over everything, and I'm more than ever disgusted at things that come easily, at the first attempt."

By enveloppe, Monet was referring to the air itself, the unifying atmosphere that lay between him and his subject. As a younger man, he had sought to capture the visual effects of light and weather by painting quickly and directly out of doors, but now he pursued the most ephemeral effects slowly and with deliberation. Color, texture, and the moods they could produce assumed as great an importance in his work as the paintings' subject, be it cathedral, river, or his beloved garden. Monet also sought to unify works in his multi-canvas series, bringing them into a whole, a goal most important to him in his late water lily pictures.

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