Arts & Culture

Monet’s water lily series, final works on display at Kimbell’s latest exhibit

Kimbell’s “Balenciaga in Black” fashion exhibit

Curator Jennifer Casler Price of the Kimbell Art Museum gives us an insider's view of the "Balenciaga in Black" exhibition of more than 100 garments created by iconic Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.
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Curator Jennifer Casler Price of the Kimbell Art Museum gives us an insider's view of the "Balenciaga in Black" exhibition of more than 100 garments created by iconic Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.

Fort Worth’s newest art exhibition is a blockbuster show that focuses on the final years of one of the founders of French Impressionist painting, Oscar-Claude Monet. Known for his vague and dreamlike compositions and unfailing dedication to observing nature, Monet’s last works were full of intense innovation and creativity.

Running from June 16 through September 15 at the Kimbell Art Museum, Monet: The Late Years is a sequel to Monet: The Early Years, which was exhibited in 2016 and 2017. Featuring approximately 50 paintings, the show focuses on the painter’s output from 1913 up until his death in 1926. It is the first retrospective in more than 20 years to focus on the last phase of Monet’s life and career. The museum is offering SNAP recipients $3 admission to the exhibit.

Every composition depicts scenes from Monet’s beloved garden on his 2-acre property at Giverny in the region of Normandy in northern France. The show features 20 of the artist’s famed water lily paintings and several depictions of his Japanese bridge. On the surface, these are exquisite scenes of nature. But these works are also statements of sympathy and sorrow. Monet was wrestling with the horrors of war, grief, and his own mortality.

Monet’s second wife, Alice, died in 1911 and he lost his eldest son, Jean, in 1914. The Great War was raging from 1914 until 1918 and Monet, then in his seventies, had developed cataracts that were gradually decreasing his eyesight.

“Weeping Willow,” Monet’s 1918 painting created in the last months of the First World War, inspired this show and it is now in a 17th-century giltwood frame — similar to what the artist would have preferred — acquired by the museum earlier this month. Monet was painting a weeping willow, a symbol of mourning, at a time when many people from his region had died. There was no indication that the war would end soon and he could hear the sounds of nearby cannons and aerial bombardments.

The first gallery features paintings from the 1900s, when Monet was the most successful painter living in France. These views of the surface of Monet’s pond, completed before the final phase of the artist’s life, seem familiar.

But the next gallery captures the transformation that led to a bold departure in the summer of 1914, after a grieving Monet had been relatively inactive for a couple years. Somehow liberated from intense mourning, the artist began painting with incredible fervor and ambition to create large-scale paintings inspired by his water lily garden.

Started at the sight of his pond, these landscape paintings are as large as six feet square. Some of these works have been lumped together in order to create panoramas and the largest gallery is meant to overwhelm viewers with the feeling of being surrounded by Monet’s vision of the world. This is a nod to Monet toying with the ideas of combining paintings and creating sweeping murals.

Monet studied the effects of light on the water lily and the surface of the reflective pond, which offers the only view of the landscape we see in these images. From there, Monet transported the canvases to his massive studio, where he incessantly toiled on several paintings at a time, moving them around on rolling easels.

Photographs capture the many different cycles some of Monet’s paintings went through as he kept working on them for years. “This is what they looked like when he died,” quipped George Shackelford, the show’s curator and the Kimbell’s deputy director.

Some of the works Monet devoted to plant life are dense, complicated, rich, and multilayered. But others are minimal with colors so soft that viewers can see the canvas shining through the surface.

By the time Monet was in his eighties, he was working on highly concentrated regular size paintings with increasingly poor vision. The last galleries feature three major series from his final years. There are seven paintings of his Japanese bridge and five of the weeping willow. As seen from the garden, four views of his house are among Monet’s last works.

These final paintings have the same energy and emotion Monet explored in his large-scale works, but with aesthetics and intimacy similar to Expressionism. With his vision blurring, Monet’s perception of color became much bolder and the images are densely layered.

“Many artists in their seventies would be overwhelmed and maybe stymied by the challenges he had,” Shackelford said. “But with great energy and incredible joy, Monet embarked on new work that was bigger and more ambitious than almost anything he had ever done. It’s a period of real dedication and bravery.”

Monet: The Late Years

Kimbell Art Museum, Piano Pavilion

June 16-September 15

Free for Kimbell members

$18 for adults

$16 for seniors and students

$14 for ages 6–11

Free for children under 6