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Overview

In 1883 Monet moved his household, his two sons along with Alice Hoschedé and her children, to the rural community of Giverny, where he leased a house that he was able to purchase seven years later. In early 1893, he acquired a swampy area across the railroad tracks abutting his property and petitioned the village council for permission to divert a small stream into it. But it was only toward the end of that decade that he turned to the garden he had created there as a rich source of artistic inspiration.

In 1899, Monet painted 12 works from a single vantage point, focusing on the arching blue–green bridge and the microcosm of his water garden. Among the 12 works was the National Gallery's Japanese Footbridge. Monet designed and built the landscape that appears in the painting—from the bridge to the pond and its shape, to the water lilies and other plantings. The artist, who as a leader of the impressionists had espoused the spontaneity of directly observed works that capture the fleeting effects of light and color, had in these later paintings subjected a nature he re–created to sustained, meditated scrutiny.

When Monet exhibited these paintings at Durand–Ruel's gallery in 1890, a number of critics mentioned his debt to Japanese art. More telling, the impenetrable green enclosure—heightened in the National Gallery painting by the placement of the top of the bridge's arch just below the painting's top edge—harkens back to the hortus conclusus (closed garden) of medieval images, while also evoking a dreamlike contemplative zone consonant with symbolist literature, especially poems such as "Le Nénuphar blanc" by Stéphane Mallarmé. Gustave Geffroy described this effect in his review of the exhibition (Le Journal, November 26, 1900), speaking of "this minuscule pool where some mysterious corollas blossom," and "a calm pool, immobile, rigid, and deep like a mirror, upon which white water lilies blossom forth, a pool surrounded by soft and hanging greenery which reflects itself in it."

Inscription

lower right: Claude Monet / 99

Provenance

Purchased January 1900 from the artist by (Durand-Ruel, Paris); sold 1920 to the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; sold 1953 to (Sam Salz, New York); sold to Henry T. Mudd, Los Angeles; by inheritance to his wife, Victoria Nebeker Coberly [Mrs. William B. Coberly, Jr., 1917-1991], Los Angeles; her estate; gift 1992 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1900
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1900.
1905
Pictures by Boudin, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Grafton Galleries, London, 1905, no. 136, as The Water Lily Pond.
1920
Nineteenth Annual International Exhibition of Paintings, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1920, no. 238.
1999
Around Impressionism: French Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1999, no cat.
1999
Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1999, no. 44, repro.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2011
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 2011, no. 33, repro.
Bibliography
1927
Regamey, Raymond. "La formation de Claude Monet." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 5e périod, tome15 (February 1927):65-84, repro.
1974
Wildenstein, Daniel. Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné. 5 vols. Lausanne and Paris, 1974-1991: no. 1517.
1993
Swicklik, Michael. "French Painting and the Use of Varnish, 1750-1900." Studies in the History of Art 41 (1993): repro. 156.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 387, no. 321, color repro.
Explore This Work

"It took me a long time to understand my water lilies…. I grew them without thinking of painting them…. And then, all of a sudden, I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette."

—Claude Monet, 1924

Ten years after moving to Giverny in 1883, Claude Monet envisioned turning a small pond on an adjacent parcel of land into an Asian-influenced water garden. Overcoming the resistance of locals wary of introducing foreign plants into the region, Monet won approval to expand the pond by diverting water from the Epte River. He encircled the basin with a vivacious arrangement of flowers, trees, and bushes, and the next year filled it with water lilies. He added a Japanese-style wooden bridge in 1895, then a few years later started to paint the pond and its water lilies—and never stopped, making them the obsessive focus of his intensely searching work for the next quarter century.

Lush and luminous, The Japanese Bridge immerses us in the physical experience of being in the garden. With the bands of the blue bridge suspended like a canopy near the top of the canvas and no sky to be seen, the water and billowing foliage fill the visual field, immersing the viewer in the verdant, brightly colored waterscape. Cool blue and green tones predominate, but are balanced by the pink, white, and yellow lilies floating in complex pattern across the surface of the water from near to far. Controlled, vertical dabs of paint define the sparkling greenery and its fleeting reflection in the water, while the more fluid lilies are rendered with broad, textured, horizontal strokes that emphasize the shared physicality of the paint and the landscape. 

Deeply admiring nature’s central role in Japanese culture, Monet here fuses Japanese motifs with his impressionist palette and brushstrokes to posit a hybrid, transcendent understanding of nature’s primacy. He first seriously explored translating the garden into paint in the summer of 1899, producing a series of 12 views of its light-dappled surface, arching footbridge, and surrounding flora. He exhibited the paintings, including this one, at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in Paris the following year.

Claude Monet

Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, 1872

About the Artist

Claude Monet was raised on the Normandy coast in Le Havre, where his father sold ships’ provisions. He gained a local reputation as a caricaturist while still a teenager, and landscape painter Eugène Boudin invited the budding artist to accompany him as he painted scenes at the local beaches. Boudin introduced Monet to plein-air (outdoor) painting, which would prove a decisive influence in his career.

Monet went to Paris in 1862 to study painting and there befriended fellow students Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who would later form the core group of the original impressionists. By the end of the 1860s, Monet had largely abandoned ambitious, large-scale figurative painting in favor of smaller, spontaneous landscape works executed en plein air.

During the Franco-Prussian War, Monet fled to London, and in late 1871 he settled at Argenteuil, a suburb just west of Paris that maintained its rustic charm even as it underwent rapid modernization. From 1872 to 1876 Argenteuil became the hub of what would soon be known as impressionist painting. Monet and his colleagues organized an exhibition of their work in Paris in 1874; one of Monet’s exhibited works, Impression, Sunrise (1873), a loosely painted sketch of an industrial seascape, led critics to derisively dub the group “the impressionists.” Financial difficulties forced Monet to relocate to Vétheuil in 1878, and in 1883, he settled in Giverny, where he would live for the rest of his life.

Most of Monet’s paintings from the 1870s depict the landscape in and around the small towns along the Seine. Working outdoors, he employed seemingly spontaneous brushstrokes to capture the ever-changing effects of light and atmosphere. In the 1880s Monet expanded his motifs, turning his attention both to the Mediterranean and to the rugged vistas along the Normandy coast. In the 1890s he undertook a number of paintings produced in series, including pictures of poplars, grainstacks, and Rouen Cathedral; each work captured a specific atmospheric effect and time of day. With his reputation as France’s leading landscape painter established and his financial situation secure, the artist turned his attention to the lavish gardens he had constructed at Giverny, eventually creating more than 250 works focused on water lilies.

Resources

 

Slideshow: Related works by Claude Monet