Inspired by his flower gardens in Giverny, Monet made hundreds of water lily-themed paintings in the last decades of his life. Among them was a large scale triptych he initially intended to display in the garden of the Hotel Biron in Paris in a gesture of World War I patriotism. Instead of putting the giant paintings on display, however, he kept them in his studio and never stopped working on them for the last 10 years of his life.
When he died in 1926, his son Michael inherited the triptych. In 1950 he sold it to a Paris art dealer, who six years later sold it to another dealer, Knoedler’s. Over the next four years, Knoedler’s split up the panels and sold each one to a different art museum. The left panel was purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the center panel by the St. Louis Art Museum, and the right panel went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
Each panel is 7 feet tall and 13 feet wide, so you can imagine even each on its own makes a spectacular museum piece. Since the divorce, they’ve only reconciled once in 1980. Come April 9th, the triptych will be a triptych again, starting with a display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
In a separate, dedicated space, the paintings themselves will be displayed with side panels at slight angles to recreate something of the panoramic experience of the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris where several of Monet’s water lily triptychs are mounted.
“Monet painted these in the panoramic tradition, but with no horizon line, so it’s an internalized psychological panorama,” Kennedy said. “We want people to contemplate, to become completely submerged in the experience. There will even be background music as visitors enter the main display so people will have this meditative, almost yoga-like experience looking at the pictures.”
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is the only other museum in the United States to have a Monet triptych on display.
The exhibit will also showcase Monet’s process as revealed by conservation work. Each of the three museums has prepared the pieces for travel with thorough cleaning and conservation, taking advantage of the opportunity to take detailed X-rays of the layers of paint and follow the changes Monet made over the decade that he worked on the painting. Those X-rays will also be on display.
The exhibition will run at Nelson-Atkins until August 7th. In September 2011, it will move to the Saint Louis Art Museum where it will remain until January of next year. The last stop will be the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2015, where it will be part of the museum’s 2016 centennial celebration.