Fresh from critics’ praise, Water Lilies returns

By | April 28, 2016
The three panels of the <em>Agapanthus</em>triptych installed at the Royal Academy.

The three panels of the Agapanthus triptych installed at the Royal Academy. Image courtesy of the Royal Academy.

Water Lilies has returned to Gallery 218 after a nine-month hiatus that took the painting to Cleveland and London for the exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

The Museum’s Water Lilies is the central panel of the 42-foot Agapanthus triptych, which Monet started to paint around 1915 and continued to rework and obsessively change until his death more than 10 years later. The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art respectively own the left and right panels of the triptych.

The panels were exhibited together in Kansas City and St. Louis in 2011. They were reunited again for Painting the Modern Garden, which opened in October at the Cleveland Museum of Art before travelling to the Royal Academy.

The triptych never before had been exhibited in the United Kingdom, but the panels quickly won over the London critics.

“In old age, Monet said he took more pride in his garden than his art, and perhaps that is why the three-part panorama of water lilies reunited for the first time in decades at the climax of this show is so overwhelming—so magnificent,” critic Laura Cumming wrote in The Guardian. “All you see is water, flower, foliage, reflection, light, on and on, round and round. There is no up or down, no end to the beauty of these constellations of colour in liquid space and air.”

Comparing the American Water Lilies paintings with the famous murals at the Musée de l’Orangerie, The Daily Mail said it was “a remarkable coup” that the Royal Academy was able to show the “astonishing study of water lilies over three canvasses.” The Telegraph urged readers to see the Agapanthus triptych, noting that joining of the three panels in London is “the only opportunity you’ll have outside Paris’s Orangerie gallery to be drawn almost bodily into this great artist’s world.”

The Financial Times called the triptych “monumental,” while The Daily Express even offered readers practical advice for growing agapanthus plants so they can recreate “the star attraction” of the exhibition.