The ArtsZipper Blog

"Monet's Water Lilies": Now Until January 22 at the St. Louis Art Museum

When I was twelve years old, my father and I took a bus through the countryside outside of Paris to spend the day in the quaint village of Givereny where Claude Monet lived and painted.  We crossed the same rickety wood planks that inspired his Japanese bridge paintings, lunched on cheese and baguettes alongside little garden paths, and passed through the same threshold of the house where Monet and his family lived for over forty years.

Seeing the Saint Louis Art Museum's new exhibit "Monet's Water Lilies" refreshed in my mind the wonder of that day, and also unleashed a new, informed fascination with the life and work of the Impressionist painter. Upon entering the exhibit, guests are greeted by Monet himself as captured in rare footage from 1915. Shot with grainy, black and white film, the silent and serene observation of Monet at his painting stool (brush in hand, dressed in a white, crisp suit, smoking a cigarette) offers the kind of intimacy with the artist rarely seen in feature exhibits.  Monet looks tender, grandfatherly and kind, and perhaps this kind of introduction readies the viewer for an even more personal engagement with a world-renowned work.

The main event of "Monet's Water Lilies" is the famous triptych (or three-panel series), "Agapanthus." Named after the African Lilly, the painting once featured an Agapanthus plant, which Monet ultimately painted out. From the time of Monet's death until thirty years later, "Agapanthus" was stored in Monet's studios and largely ignored. It wasn't until the late fifties that the triptych was purchased by three institutions: the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and the Cleveland Museum of Art. SLAM's momentous exhibit is the first time the three sections have been united since.

In the central room of the exhibition, a comfortable stretch of seating runs the length of the entire triptych and invites guests to take a seat and get lost in the Givereny landscape. For a painting absent of a horizontal line, this work achieves incredible dimension while working in a flat space. The gentle movement in color drifts from reflections of sky, to lily pads, to the vague point of shore. Guests whisper, a woman cups her face in her hand, and a group of students relish in the quiet romance of getting to know a man by the strokes of a brush: these are the small glories of "Monet's Water Lilies."

See the exhibit from now until January 22, 2012. SLAM is offering a series of classes and workshops centered on Monet's work from now until January 22, 2012. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, $6 for children 6 to 12, free for children younger than 6, free to Members every day, and free to all on Fridays. An audio tour accompanies the exhibition and is included in the price of $8 and $10 tickets. Audio tours are available on Fridays for $3. Purchase tickets at

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