At Large  June 8, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Conservator Discovers Secret Hiding on One of Monet's Last Canvasses

wikimedia commons, Sailko

Claude Monet, Wisteria, 1917-1920

Conservators at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague made a surprising and valuable discovery recently while doing some routine restoration work. To prepare for a Monet exhibition this fall, museum workers were carefully examining their Wisteria canvas (above), when modern art conservator Ruth Hoppe noticed that the canvas had been repaired and repainted to cover small cuts in the canvas. To find out what lay beneath the repairs, she decided to X-ray the canvas.

wikimedia commons, New York TImes

Monet, right, in his garden at Giverny, 1922

What she discovered beneath the surface was a surprise that has offered insights into Monet’s productive last years. Beneath the swaths of swirling colors that comprise his Wisteria, lay the unmistakable shape of water lilies, Monet’s most famous subject matter.

For the last years of his life, Claude Monet (1840-1926) spent much of his time and artistic energy in his lush gardens in Giverny. Working with his gardener, Monet planned beautiful ponds planted with an exotic array of water lilies. Beginning in 1899 and until the end of his life, he spent his days in his gardens, greenhouse, and studio, painting the splendor around him. These depictions of waterlilies would become his most famous works.

His final series of water lily canvases, some as long as 20 feet, were meant to be displayed alongside paintings of wisteria, which were to hang above them, as the plants did in his garden. Upon his death, Monet gave the works to the French state, who displayed only the water lilies in the Orangerie. But the display was unpopular—his works had grown increasingly impressionistic, and some blamed Monet’s failing eyesight for their abstract nature.

Honolulu Museum of Art

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1917-1919

His Wisteria canvases, of which there are eight known today, have never been as popular or as valuable as their Water Lily counterparts. In Nina Siegal’s report for the The New York Times, curator Ruth Hoppe indicates that the water lilies beneath the wisteria on the Gemeentemuseum’s canvas may offer a link between the two: “The most logical reason for me was that he wanted to try something new, and he wasn’t sure yet where it would end,” she explains. “To my eye, this is a bridge between the water lilies and the wisteria.”

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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