Most will think they know Monet's Water Lillies but when pressed to describle the actual composition they cannot. This is because in reality his famous subject and colour pallete span a group of approximatley 250 paintings, painted between 1840–1926.
As an avid gardener Monet was constantly remodeling and planting the grounds of his rented home in Giverny France to inspire his landscape paintings. He created the perfect place for quiet reflection, then spent the rest of his days capturing it in oils.
The ambitious painter imported water lilies for his Giverny garden from Egypt and South America, which drew the ire of local authorities. The council demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the area's water, but thankfully Monet ignored them.
Commenting on what he called his "water landscapes," Monet once declared, "One instant, one aspect of nature contains it all." No wonder he dedicated much of the last 30 years of his life to painting them, forging on even when cataracts began threatening his vision in 1912.
Critics called the Impressionist paintings messy and suggested the works were less about a creative vision than Monet's blurred vision. As his eyes were failing, critics sneered at Monet's color palette and his argument that his depiction of flora, water, and light was an artistic choice, spurring an initial disdain of Monet's now-revered series.
Considering how cruel his critics were, it's little wonder that in his later years Monet became incredibly selective about which paintings he would sign and attempt to sell. Just four paintings made the grade in 1919. As the work progessed it become more and more of a meditation on colour and form.
Early Impressionism had views of nature such as looking at a seaside or out looking at a field. There were markers of location that the viewer could understand, "Here I am as a person. Here's the view that the painter is portraying for me." With the Water Lily panels, Monet changed this completely so that rather than the viewer being larger than the view being depicted on an easel-sized canvas, you are immersed in the scene of this water lily pond. All the normal markers, like the edge of the water or the sky or the distant trees, have disappeared. The viewer becomes one with the water lilies and the surface of the water with the clouds reflected from above; lost in the expanse of water and of light.
In this way, Monet's unique vision forever changed Impressionism, creating a new form that inspired untold artists and admirers.