Students will examine the artistic characteristics of The Water Lily Pond; explain how the natural resources that appear in the painting, particularly the vegetation, correspond with the climate of France; and design and create a collage of a garden including different vegetation that corresponds with the climate of their local geographical area.
Students will be able to:
- examine the artistic characteristics of The Water Lily Pond;
- locate France on a map of the world and identify some defining features of the country;
- explain how the natural resources that appear in the painting, particularly vegetation, correspond with the climate of France;
- design and illustrate a garden including both native and imported vegetation that corresponds with the climate of their local geographical area; and
- provide a written description explaining how the natural resources in their garden are appropriate for the climate in which they live.
- Warm-up: Display The Water Lily Pond and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they notice about the painting? What colors do they see? What types of vegetation do they recognize? Encourage students to look at the brushwork in all the vegetation—how do the willow branches look? How about the lily pads? What shapes repeat in the painting? All these plants are not perfectly shaped in real life, so how and why did Monet make them look this way?
- Read aloud The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, or Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson, to give your students background on Monet, his work, and where he lived. Continue this discussion by referencing a world map or globe and pointing out France.
- Invite students to take another look at The Water Lily Pond and list all the natural resources that they can see in the painting (e.g., water, trees, water lilies, bushes). Record the students’ contributions on a large piece of chart paper or (interactive) whiteboard.
- Take another look at information about the climate of France, available through websites such as:
- Share with the students that some of the vegetation that appears in the painting was native to France, while other plants were brought in from other places. For example, the water lilies Monet brought in were from Japan. The neighbors were shocked upon the arrival of these plants—they had never seen them before and thought they might poison the cows! Although the vegetation could be from many different places, it was important that all the plants were able to survive in France's climate.
- Ask the students: What are some characteristics of the types of natural resources which appear in The Water Lily Pond? What types of natural resources, particularly vegetation, do NOT appear in the painting? How do these natural resources correspond with the climate of France?
- Ask the students to think about the geographical area in which they live, and invite them to list the different kinds of natural resources which are native to their local area. What types of vegetation would not survive in their area’s climate? Record the students’ contributions on a large piece of chart paper or (interactive) whiteboard.
- Invite the students to create a collage of a garden that is pleasing to them, just as Monet created his garden in Giverny. Encourage the students to include a combination of native and imported vegetation, but tell them to make sure that the imported vegetation would be able to survive in their local area. Challenge students to think about how different plant shapes would interact, what modifications would be needed so all vegetation would thrive, and how they can make their work as cohesive as Monet’s garden.
- Have the students create a collage of their garden from paper, magazine clippings, and other materials, along with a written description explaining how the natural resources in their garden are appropriate for the climate in which they live.
- When students are finished, invite another class to go on a “garden tour” in your classroom, and have each student explain his or her garden.
- Drawing paper and pen/pencil/artistic supplies for each student
- Large piece of chart paper and colored markers or (interactive) whiteboard for recording students’ ideas
- Map of the world, visible to all students in the classroom
- Children’s book of Monet’s life (Suggestions: The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, or Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson)
- About the Art section on The Water Lily Pond
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Internet access to helpful websites like:
- Social Studies
- Become familiar with United States geography
- Become familiar with World geography
- Recognize similarities and differences about regions and people using geographic tools
- Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
Waterlilies or The Water Lily Pond (Nymphéas)
- Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926
- Born: Paris, France
The most widely known French Impressionist, Claude Monet [moe-NAY] was born in Paris and grew up on the Normandy coast. His father was a wholesale grocer, and after his mother died when he was 17, an aunt encouraged Monet in his efforts to become an artist. With a local reputation as a caricaturist, he attracted the interest of landscape painter Eugene Boudin [boh-DAN], who introduced Monet to plein-air painting. Plein-air is French for “open air” and refers to paintings created outdoors.
In the 1860s, Monet joined a group of young artists who began to challenge the rules for how good paintings were made. These young artists had so much trouble getting their work exhibited that they created their own independent exhibition, which yielded only ridicule and a sarcastic label. That label—derived from Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunrise of 1874—stuck, and the group of artists became known as the “Impressionists.” Impressionists were initially criticized for their unworthy subjects, unrealistic colors, garish color combinations, and loose, seemingly unfinished brushwork.
Like many other Impressionists, Monet had little success in his early years. He most often chose to paint landscapes and leisure activities—everyday activities that were considered to be unworthy subjects for art, compared to the highly respected religious and mythological subjects. With his paintings, Monet strove to capture a fleeting moment by rendering the nuances of light and color in nature. He wanted to depict the feeling or sensation of a scene, rather than the individual objects that existed within the composition. As the public opinion of Impressionism became more favorable in the mid-1880s, Monet’s paintings began to sell well and by the turn of the century, he was one of the world’s wealthiest artists.
In 1883, Monet, his second wife Alice Hoschede, and her eight kids moved to Giverny [GEE-ver-KNEE], a town about an hour outside Paris where he lived the rest of his life. “These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. They are beyond the power of an old man, and I nevertheless want to succeed in rendering what I perceive…,” said Monet of his garden at Giverny, where he painted many versions of the The Water Lily Pond. An inspired gardener and a perfectionist, Monet designed his garden like he was changing the costume on a model or arranging a still-life—to look exactly as he wanted to paint it. He built an arched bridge based on Japanese designs across one section of the pond. He also got permission to control the incoming water flow, creating the right conditions to grow a new hybrid water lily that would be hardy enough for the French climate. He orchestrated color and plant arrangement (including irises and weeping willows) around the edge of his pond for the best reflections. He pruned dead water lily blossoms and even went so far as to trim the pads. He even paid to blacktop the road that crossed his property because he didn’t like the dust that settled on his plants.
Monet would work on a painting for half an hour and as the light changed, he’d switch out the canvas he was working on for another, frantically trying to find the one that best matched what he was currently seeing. He complained, “It’s a continual torture to me!” Monet worked on a continuous series of water lily paintings from the late 1890s to 1910. About three hundred of his paintings are of his floral and water gardens. Ever self-critical, he was known to slash his paintings with a knife when he feared he had overworked them. Only four water lily paintings from 1904 survived his rampages—this painting is one of them.
Monet started out painting broader views of his pond, but increasingly narrowed his focus downward until he was only showing the water’s surface. This painting was done somewhere in between, showing no sky and only a bit of the growth around the pond’s edge.
Sense of Depth
In his water lily paintings, Monet often rejected the painter’s usual tools, like lines of perspective. However, you can still see the recession of space, mainly because of the diminishing scale of the clusters of flowers—the further away the flowers, the smaller they appear.
A large portion of the painting shows the surface of the water. Monet paints both the actual flower clusters on the water’s surface as well as the changing effects of light reflected in the water. For Monet, the reflection was really the subject of his painting. He said, “The water flowers are far from being the whole scene; really, they are just the accompaniment. The essence of the motif is the mirror of water whose appearance alters at every moment.”
Layers of Paint
Monet worked his canvases over and over, adding many layers of paint. For the flowers, he applied such thick globs of paint that they project out from the canvas’s surface, but he painted the water so sparingly that you can still see the texture of the canvas underneath. Compare the drier application of paint in the water, the thick application of paint for the flowers, and the lively swirls of paint in the plants on the bank.
Monet often used a brush made of stiff bristles; in some places, you can see the mark of the bristles in the paint. He also used a softer, rounded brush in places where the paint rises up from the canvas.
Monet said in 1905 that he only uses five colors: cadmium yellow, vermillion (a red), cobalt blue, emerald green, rose madder deep (a pink), and silver-white. While we don’t know for sure that Monet only used these five colors in this Denver Art Museum painting, it is entirely possible, as Monet made that statement only a year after finishing it.
Monet felt that black had a dulling effect, so instead of black, he used a color’s complement to darken an area. You can see reds laid into the greens in the darkest part of the water.
Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.
The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.