Of the approximately one dozen paintings by Claude Monet in the Kunsthaus, the two water lily pictures stand out due to their format and artistic significance. Six metres in length and two in height – a total painted surface of twelve square metres – the work explodes the proportions that are associated with the picture as ‘window’. The horizon is entirely absent. The acute angle of view causes the water surface and picture plane to merge. We do not take in the painting at a single glance, but must move along it to appreciate it as a whole. The eye meanders through the chromatic space, where representational alternates with non-representational.
The large-format paintings were produced in Giverny, where Monet had owned a house since 1883 and landscaped a garden in which he found many of his motifs. Towards the end of his life, he created his now famous ‘grandes décorations’ in the adjoining studio. In them the idea of the image series, which began with the haystacks, reaches its dazzling culmination.
In 1953 the then director of the Kunsthaus, Dr. René Wehrli, undertook a memorable journey to Giverny in the company of Emil Georg Bührle. Wehrli fell through a bridge and landed in Monet’s celebrated water lily pond. The good-humoured Bührle acquired three monumental pictures and donated two of them to the Kunsthaus to mark the opening of the Bührle Gallery which he had sponsored.