Before He Painted Water Lilies, Monet Was Obsessed With Chrysanthemums

An upcoming Sotheby's auction will highlight the artist's fascinating transitional period.

Monet, ‘Sur la falaise près de Dieppe, soleil couchant.’ Sotheby's

There’s nothing more fascinating than a transitional period: decades after their deaths, famous artists have been canonized in the collective imagination so thoroughly that only their most well-known works tend to spring to mind. When you think of Hilma af Klint, you think of the staggering psychic visions she produced; the huge spheres and the kissing swans. Her transition to full abstraction was defined by her interest in the occult, and Claude Monet, the painter whose work Sotheby's will be centering with an auction in March, was once at a stage of transition between Impressionism and career-defining Abstract Expressionism. It’s these paintings that Sotheby’s will be highlighting: multi-hued flowers, still lifes and landscapes that anticipate his greatest work.

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Monet, ‘Massif de chrysanthèmes.’ Sotheby's

Created during a 15 year period, these paintings drop hints at what would continue to captivate Monet during his later periods. Everyone knows about the water lilies, crowned by a Japanese footbridge, that would later be cemented in art history. But in 1897, Monet was already deep into his obsession with Japan and producing paintings like Massif de chrysanthèmes, which is estimated to sell for between 10 and 15 million GBP. Chrysanthemums are national symbols of power in Japan, and Monet painted them vividly, and with reverence: his blossoms are explosively hued in lime green, pale pink and burnt orange. In contrast, Monet’s famous water lilies feel almost sedate.

In November 2021 alone, works by Monet sold at auction all over the world for sums such as $50,820,000 (Coin du bassin aux nymphéas) and $13,342,400 (Antibes vue de la Salis). “Monet is one of the most sought-after artists in the world today,” Helena Newman, the Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, said in a statement. “In recent years the energy around him has taken on an even more renewed vigor, both in the global exhibition arena and among collectors all around the world – particularly in Asia where he is a beloved figure.”

At the March Sotheby’s auction, paintings like Les Demoiselles de Giverny, which features the recognizable Monet subject of grainstacks, are expected to sell for more; between 15 to 20 million GBP to be exact. But it’s what he chose to paint that’s not so expected that’s most interesting.

New on the Block is a series that looks at the most notable or unusual items to go up for auction each week. 

Before He Painted Water Lilies, Monet Was Obsessed With Chrysanthemums