Claude Monet’s career extended well into the twentieth century. During his last decades, he was primarily engaged with painting his water garden at Giverny. His final project was an immense decorative ensemble of horizontal canvases that he imagined encircling a room in a continuous array. (Although the artist did not fully resolve the cycle before his death in 1926, the French government purchased several of the murals and installed them in the Orangerie, Paris, in 1927.)
Despite advancing age and failing eyesight, Monet worked indefatigably, at heavy easels installed by the edge of the pond and in his studio. Having eliminated the horizon line from his paintings of the water’s surface, he concentrated on fragments, transforming their scale—Iris is over six feet square—and dispensing with the notion of three-dimensional space. The canvas is no longer a window, but rather a decorative surface.
Iris is a kind of study for the Orangerie murals, a close-up in which reflections and objects are not logically connected to one another. Monet formed the flowers and leaves of the iris plant with energetic, broad strokes of a pigment-laden brush; these marks fill the lower-right portion of the canvas, but do not establish a border between ground and water, instead becoming intertwined with the blues, greens, and browns that suggest reflections of sky, plants, and trees on the pond’s surface. Forms disintegrate into patterns of texture and color, based on the artist’s memories of the site as much as on observation. Monet never completed Iris and perhaps did not intend to. Thus, the painting’s rough surface and constantly shifting perspective reveal the artist’s struggle to push the boundaries of painting further than ever before, to a transcendent realm of pure visual sensation.
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