Irises were among Monet’s favourite flowers, and he cultivated many different species, planting them in both his flower garden and his water garden. This is one of approximately 20 views or irises surrounding the banks of the lily pond that Monet painted around 1914–17. It is as though we are standing on the Japanese bridge and looking down at the winding path bordered by flowers.
The painting was evidently rapidly executed, with the garden path laid in first and the flower border worked over its edges. The white ground is left uncovered in places and the brushwork is loose, with the thick purples, blues and greens applied with bold, even crude strokes. The effects may have been partly the result of the double cataracts, which at this date were altering Monet’s vision. It is not clear whether the artist regarded the picture as finished, since it remained in his studio at his death.
By the late nineteenth century hybridisation had created almost 200 different varieties of iris. The flowers had originated in Japan and featured in the Japanese prints Monet so admired – we know that he owned a print of Irises by the Japanese artist Hokusai. He would also have been familiar with the paintings of irises that Van Gogh made in the year before his death in 1890. Monet cultivated many different varieties of iris, and in 1913 his head gardener even published an article in a horticultural magazine detailing the different types that grew in the garden, including one that was named ‘Mme Claude Monet’, after Monet’s wife.
Irises were planted beneath the trees in the ‘Clos Normand’ flower garden in front of Monet’s house and around the banks and along the paths of the lily pond in his water garden. Clumps of them can be seen bordering the pond in an earlier view of the water garden, The Water-lily pond. The irises made an impressive sight. Georges Truffaut, a great horticultural expert who visited Giverny, wrote: ‘The edges of the pond are thickly covered with irises of every kind. In the spring there are Iris sibirica and Virginian irises with their long petals and velvety texture; later on the Japanese irises and the Kaempferi irises grow here in quantity.’
This painting is one of approximately 20 views of irises in the water garden that Monet painted around 1914–17. One striking characteristic of these canvases is the experimentation with unusual and unexpected viewpoints. It looks as though the bird’s-eye view here is painted from a vantage point on the Japanese bridge.
Most of the iris pictures of this date are exactly two metres high, the same height as Water-Lilies, the large panel also in the National Gallery’s collection. The pictures were painted in the large studio Monet had built at Giverny in order to work on huge canvases of his water garden. The National Gallery’s iris painting was rapidly executed, with the garden path laid in first and the flower border worked over its edges. The most fluid section is the swirling blues and greens in the lower right corner. Like Water-Lilies, it is painted on a luminous white ground, which is left uncovered in places, particularly in the lower right corner and along the lower edge, and the brushwork is very loose and open at the right edge of the picture. Monet applied thick purples, blues and greens using bold, even crude strokes. The effects may have been partly the result of the double cataracts which were altering his vision by this date.
It is not clear whether Monet regarded the picture as finished since it remained in his studio (along with Water-Lilies) at his death. It is possible that the large pictures of irises were intended as studies, and that Monet may at one point have been thinking of including irises in his Grandes Dėcorations series of paintings of the water-lily pond. The final series, which he donated to the French state, and which is now on show in the Musėe de l’Orangerie in Paris, does not include irises, but a photograph taken in 1920 of the Grandes Dėcorations in progress suggests that Monet may have considered featuring them in the scheme.
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