Claude Monet, Les Villas à Bordighera, 1884, Acquis avec le concours du fonds du patrimoine et grâce à la participation de la Fondation Meyer et d'une donation anonyme canadienne Paris, musée d'Orsay Photo © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN -Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Impressionist Decorations. Tracing the Roots of Monet’s Water Lilies

Mar 2, 2022 - Jul 11, 2022

Impressionism is rarely associated with the term decoration. However, impressionist works seen today as easel paintings – landscapes, flowers, or scenes of modern life – were first conceived as decorations. Concerned with the role of beauty in everyday life, Impressionist artists experimented with various media, exploring all their possibilities and redefining the very idea of “decorative” in their way.

This aspect of Impressionism is little known today. Yet the cycle of Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, which Monet called his “great decorations,” culminates in more than sixty years exploration in this field. Impressionists paintings shocked because they were seen as simple decorations, devoid of meaning and dedicated to the sole pleasure of the senses. Didn’t a critic write in 1874 that Monet’s paintings were like “wallpaper”?

The exhibition invites us to explore this other story of Impressionism with works by Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, and Renoir, some of which are rarely or never shown in France. About eighty paintings, fans, ceramics, or drawings trace this new path, with the Impressionists’ conviction that art is made above all to “brighten the walls”, as Renoir said.


Sylvie Patry, Director of Conservation and Collections, Musée d’Orsay
Anne Robbins, Curator of Painting, Musée d’Orsay

Assisted by
Isabelle Gaëtan, Head of Documentary Studies, Musée d’Orsay

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