Modern Landscapes

Claude Monet (French, Paris 1840 - 1926 Giverny)
Wisteria (Glycines), ca. 1919-20
Studio stamp lower left: Claude Monet
Oil on canvas
59 x 78 7/8 in. (149.8 x 200.5 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr., Fund, 1960
AMAM 1960.5

This large, broadly painted canvas depicts a garland of wisteria that arcs across the surface as if suspended from the upper framing edge. It is one of nine remaining paintings intended to serve as a decorative frieze for the cycle of water lily murals that Monet offered to the French government following the First World War.

Monet's home at Giverny, now a national museum, is famous for its luxurious flower and water lily gardens. During the 1890s the artist began to develop and cultivate the nearby water lily pond, and by the end of the decade had conceived of a vast decorative scheme based on that motif.1 Although the next fifteen years were taken up with several series of smaller paintings, the idea of a large-scale decoration was not discarded.

In 1914, encouraged by his longtime friend, the statesman Georges Clemenceau, Monet put aside a pervading weariness and depression (occasioned by failing eyesight and the death of his wife) and began to plan the construction of a large studio in which he would be able to execute the grand project.

After the Allied victory in 1918, Monet offered his decorative cycle to the state. In October 1920, the government announced the construction of a pavilion on the grounds of the Hotel Biron (now the Musée Rodin) to house it.2

Monet's idea was described publicly for the first time by the critic François Thiébault-Sisson in on 14 October 1920:3

"In this structure, which will be in the shape of a rotunda, twelve canvases will be distributed end to end along the walls so as to give the eye, by [the continuity of the] series, the impression of a single canvas. The series will be separated by relatively narrow breaks, which will comprise the entrance and exit and corresponding intervals placed symmetrically opposite them. The skylighted ceiling will be set high enough to provide enough room . . . for Monet to introduce decorative motifs, to be placed over the spaces that separate the series."

The "decorative motifs" were meant to be paintings of wisteria, as Monet revealed to another visitor, the Duc Edouard de Trévise, that same fall. With Trévise, he discussed a somewhat more general deployment of the wisteria, in the form of a continuous frieze to be set above the large water lily murals. To Trévise's suggestion of such an arrangement ("above would be the calm grey of the walls, surmounted by some sort of flowered frieze"), Monet replied: "That is exactly my idea; I'll even show you the first garlands of this frieze; I am using wisteria for it."4

Ultimately, the scheme for the circular structure at the Hôtel Biron foundered, and along with it the frieze,5 but nine canvases devoted to wisteria remain.6 They are all broadly brushed and presumably would have been developed further or replaced by others had the original scheme been carried out. They probably date from 1919-20, when the Hôtel Biron project was still in active preparation. Three of them are strongly horizontal (100 x 200-300 cm) and seem to fit the idea of the continuous frieze, as Monet discussed it with the Duc de Trévise. The other six, including the Oberlin canvas, are closer to square (150 x 200 cm) and seem to belong to the plan described by Thiébault-Sisson, in which individual garlanded panels would bridge the intervals between the large murals.7

The subject of wisteria had its origin in the garden itself. In 1910 Monet enlarged the pond and built a canopy over the arched, Japanese-style bridge that straddled its narrow western end. The bridge and canopy soon became the supports for white and lilac wisteria imported from China and Japan.8 In the Oberlin canvas and most of its companions, Monet translated these rising arcs of flowers into heavy, looping festoons.9

J. Isaacson

Born Oscar-Claude Monet in Paris on 10 November 1840, Monet moved with his family to Le Havre at the age of five. His early, informal training in landscape painting from Eugène Boudin and J.-B. Jongkind (1819-1891) committed him to a career as an open air painter. In the 1870s he became a leading member of the Impressionist group. In 1883 he settled in Giverny, about fifty miles west of Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. During the 1890s, after his second marriage and the purchase of the property, he began to develop extensive flower and water gardens, which he first painted in the late 1890s with a series devoted to the Japanese bridge, and which then became his chief subject for the rest of his life.

General References
Stuckey, Charles, and Robert Gordon. "Blossoms and Blunders: Monet and the State." Art in America 67, no. 1 (January-February 1979), pp. 102-17; and no. 5 (September 1979), pp. 109-25.

Gordon, Robert, and Andrew Forge. Monet. New York, 1983, chs. 7-9 (pp. 199-288).

Stuckey, Charles, ed. Monet: A Retrospective. New York, 1985.

Wildenstein, Daniel. Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné;. 5 vols. Lausanne and Paris, 1985. Vol. 4 (1985), esp. pp. 94-96, 294-95.

Spate, Virginia. Claude Monet: Life and Work. New York, 1992, esp. part 3 (pp. 253-317).

Tucker, Paul H. Claude Monet: Life and Art. New Haven and London, 1995, ch. 7 (pp. 175-225).

Collection Michel Monet, Giverny

Collection Katia Granoff, Paris

With Paul Rosenberg and Company, New York, from whom purchased in 1960

St. Louis, City Art Museum, 1957. Claude Monet. 25 September - 22 October (also shown at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts). Cat. no. 92.

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1960. Claude Monet: Seasons and Moments. 7 March - 15 May (also shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Cat. no. 113.

Iowa City, University of Iowa Gallery of Art, 1964. Impressionism and Its Roots. Cat. no. 38.

Montreal, International Fine Arts Exhibition, Expo '67, 1967. Man and his World. 28 April - 27 October. Cat. no. 93.

Degand, L., and D. Rouart. Claude Monet. Translated by James Emmons. Lausanne, 1958, p. 104.

Seitz, William C. Claude Monet. Seasons and Moments. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1960, pp. 46, 48, under cat. no. 113.

Goodman, Paul. "The Passion of Monet." Art News 59 (October 1960), pp. 36-37, 53, ill. p. 36.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Painting and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 113-14, fig. 127.

Hamilton, George H. 19th and 20th Century Art. New York, 1970, p. 108, fig. 92.

Rouart, D., and Jean-Dominique Rey. Monet Water-Lilies, or the Mirror of Time. Descriptive catalogue by Robert Maillard. Translated by Wade Stevenson. New York, 1974, p. [190]. (French ed., Paris, 1972).

Carmean, E. A., Jr. "Morris Louis and the Modern Tradition: II: Cubism; III: Impressionism." Arts Magazine 51 (October 1976), pp. 116-17.

Wildenstein, Daniel. Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné. Vol. 4. Lausanne and Paris, 1985, pp. 294-95, no. 1909.

Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of Post-Impressionism. New York, 1986, pp. 35-37.

Technical Data
The weave of the original light-weight linen canvas is visible in places through the extremely thin single layer of off-white commercial primer. There are two phases of work evident. The very fluid lower paint layer was freely applied in a circular stroke. The upper paint layer is thicker, more opaque, and contains moderate impasto. Infrared distinguishes two blues, possibly French ultramarine and cobalt blue. In 1964 the canvas was lined onto a medium-weight canvas with wax resin to consolidate extensive flaking of the upper paint layer, and mounted on an ICA-type spring stretcher. The wax resin may have slightly darkened the ground. At that time minor wax filling and inpainting were done throughout. It was also noted then that the upper paint layer may lie over an isolating varnish.10

1. Maurice Guillemot, "Claude Monet," 13 (16 July 1898).

2. For a history of the project, see Charles Stuckey and Robert Gordon, "Blossoms and Blunders: Monet and the State," Art in America 67, no. 1 (January-February 1979), pp. 102-17; and no. 5 (September 1979), pp. 109-25.

3. 14 October 1920, p. 2; translated in Charles Stuckey, ed., (New York, 1985), p. 304.

4. Quote from Duc de Trévise, "Le Pèlerinage à Giverny," La Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 51 (February 1927), pp. 130-31; translated in Charles Stuckey, ed., Monet: A Retrospective (New York, 1985), p. 340.

5. The final decoration was installed in May 1927--shortly after Monet's death and according to his revised design--in two oval rooms in the Orangerie at the southwest corner of the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.

6. These works are catalogued by Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. 4 (Lausanne and Paris, 1985), pp. 294-95.

7. Wildenstein (Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. 4 [Lausanne and Paris, 1985], p. 294, no. 1909) has suggested that the Oberlin painting might have been intended to form a pair with the version in The Hague. But the arc of the garlands does not match up sufficiently well to support this hypothesis.

8. Elizabeth Murray describes and illustrates the bridge in "Monet as a Garden Artist," in Monet. Late Paintings of Giverny from the Musée Marmottan (exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1995), p. 57. She also notes a wisteria arbor, six feet high and thirty-five feet long, established by Monet on the far side of the pond, illustrated p. 58. This arbor, too, may have served as inspiration for the wisteria decorations.

9. The one exception is the 100 x 300 cm canvas in the Musée Marmottan, Paris; reproduced in Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. 4 (Lausanne and Paris, 1985), no. 1903.

10. See the condition report by Richard D. Buck, 7 December 1964, in the museum files.