The Musee de L’Orangerie is famous for being the home of eight large Water Lily murals by Monet. It is located in the west corner of the Tuleries Gardens, next to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The Concorde metro station is nearby. The Water Lilies are shown in eight panels, each two metres high and spanning ninety one metres in length. They are arranged in two oval rooms, making the viewing an experience of virtual reality, being surrounded by waterlilies. Visitors may also see works by Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and others.
At his house in Giverny, where he lived for forty three years between 1883- 1926, Monet constructed a water garden. He loved flowers, and filled it with waterlilies. He said that “water and reflections are an obsession with me” so for twenty years, he worked on producing paintings of his watergarden.
Then in 1914, Monet stopped painting. He was overcome with grief, following the death of his second wife Alice in 1912 and then in 1914 by the death of his eldest son Jean, aged forty six. Monet was aged seventy three and two years previously in 1912 had been diagnosed with the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes. Fortunately he had the support of Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France 1906-1907 and 1917- 1920. He persuaded Monet to start painting again, on a new project, his ” Grandes Decorations” of Waterlilies.
So it was that Monet started work on these huge canvases, for which he had no room in his studio. He painted them outside in his garden and had to build a new studio to house them. Meanwhile France was at war with Germany and many of the villagers had evacuated Giverny, which was only fifty kilometres away from the front line. Monet stayed put and took vegetables from his garden to the local hospital, a d worked on his paintings.
On 11/11/1918 the guns fell silent and Monet decided to dedicate his paintings to the French people, saying “It is not much, it is the only way I have, to take part in the victory” Clemenceau supported the use of the paintings as a War Memorial , but it was not until after Monet’s death in 1926, that the murals were put on display. The doors of the Musee de L’Orangerie opened to the public in May 1927, but nobody came!! The reviews were terrible, saying that Monet had lost his way artistically. The world was not ready for his art. The tailor made gallery was used for other purposes, even dog shows! The ceilings leaked and during the second world war, there was bomb damage to the murals. Finally the light to the paintings was cut off by a concrete ceiling, installed in 1966.
It was three decades later that Monet’s gift to the nation was appreciated. In the New York Museum of Modern Art, an early painting of waterlillies by Monet was on display. It attracted the attention of American artists, who wanted to see the paintings at L’Orangerie. Then abstract expressionist painters in America were inspired to paint by what they saw in Monet. As a consequence, the French Government renovated the gallery. The concrete ceiling was removed, letting in natural light once again and in 2006 the doors reopened. This time Monet’s gift to the French people was appreciated. The War Memorial, as a place of quiet reflection on the passing of time was established.