Thursday, February 4, 2010

Monet's Water Lillies at MoMA

Monet, Water Lilies, Reflection of Weeping Willows, 1914-28, MoMA

Until this show (MoMA through April 12), I guess I was always too busy looking at the interior of Monet's Water Lilies to really appreciated the many ways Monet framed these paintings. I don't mean the wood frames around the paintings, I mean the painted ones within the painting.

You can see the ways Monet ended his paintings before the edge even in these poor photos taken with my iPhone. His Water Lilies don't continue indefinitely beyond the frame, but rather come to a definite end before the edge. He'd leave a few inches unpainted (like Pollock did with his classic drip paintings), he'd curve the brushstrokes back around, or he'd change the hue, value or texture of the brushstrokes as they approached the edge. This not only creates an ending to the paintings but, more important, makes the paintings self contained -- makes the paintings a thing existing in our world, not an imaginary picture behind (and beyond) the frame. Monet learned the lesson of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon well.

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