A public decor under the IIIe Republic

A public decor under the III<sup>e</sup> Republic

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Title: The Water Lilies, water study: Le Matin n ° 1 (room II, north wall)

Author : MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 197 - Width 1274

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.Detail

Storage location: Orangerie Museum

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved website

Picture reference: 92-000121 / INV20105

The Water Lilies, water study: Le Matin n ° 1 (room II, north wall)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

A climate of trust

After the departure of Marshal-President Mac-Mahon in 1879 (marking the end of the Republic of the Dukes), the IIIe République, born on September 4, 1870 on the rubble of Sedan and endowed with constitutional laws since 1875, began a phase of consolidation and expansion. She adheres to the humanism inherited from the Enlightenment, and she advocates freedom and secularism.

Attached to the symbols which found its legitimacy (in 1879, the seat of public powers was re-established in Paris, the Marseillaise was chosen as the national anthem), it entrusted the decor of large buildings with the task of disseminating its values: “French patriotism has, him too, his Life of Saints, his golden legend. 276).

The movement, widely supported by local communities, gave rise to a veritable "statuomania" (monuments to the Republic and its tutelary figures), and, in public buildings (town halls, universities, etc.), to a flowering of decorations painted paintings subsidized by the state. 269).

Image Analysis

A total work of art

The immense mounted canvases which, since 1927, have adorned the Orangerie des Tuileries in Paris are universally known today. In two oval rooms, 91 linear meters and 2.50 meters high, a water landscape stretches and unfolds, populated by water lilies, willow branches, clouds and reflected tree trunks, “Illusion of an endless whole, of a wave without horizon and without shore” in Monet's own words. A late and puzzling manifestation of an impressionism to which the monumentality and the absence of any human figure confer an abstract character, this decoration is the balance of a lifetime. Produced between 1914 and 1926, it was first conceived without a specific destination, drawing on the artist's familiar universe: the water garden surrounded by trees and adorned with aquatic plants, designed from 1893 on his property de Giverny, and in front of which, for more than thirty years, the painter set down his easel to probe its changing rhythms. Composed of eight series of panels, the cycle of Water lilies of the Orangery evokes, without a solution of continuity, the march of the hours, since sunrise with the Morning, willing to the east, until the evening with Sunset, West.


The gift of Water lilies : genius and multitude

It was on his own initiative that Monet, the day after the armistice, instructed his friend Clemenceau, President of the Council and "Father la Victoire", to offer the State, through him, two simple panels from the series. of Water lilies. Clemenceau, in return, skillfully convinced the painter to extend his gesture to the decorative ensemble of which he had been thinking since 1897 without knowing its destination. The administration, which admittedly left great latitude to artists responsible for public decors and which, over time, "tended to transform itself into a manager of funds which it placed under its control at the disposal of users" (P. 185) , would she nevertheless have accepted this gift if Clemenceau had not supported it? Crowned with the victory of France, the Tiger had indeed acquired a solid reputation as a defender of modern art and his authority was indisputable. Unlike the militant catechesis of contemporary settings, such as the decor created by Glaize in the wedding hall of the town hall on 20e arrondissement of Paris ("Assisi between Truth and Time, having Justice at its side, Posterity awards immortality to all citizens who have contributed to the triumph of the Republic") or the countless Triumphs of a prosperous and confident Republic, the series of Water lilies does not illustrate any particular episode or explain the function of the building.

The work, timeless and intelligible to all, is addressed to an “undifferentiated and unlimited” audience and, after the barbarism of war, offering “the reparative spectacle of cosmic order and the consolation of beauty” ( P. Georgel, Le cycle des Nymphéas, 1999, p. 17-18), it transcends ideologies. Clemenceau expressed its singularity well, speaking of "an overwhelming emotion of beauty": "When the Water lilies of Water garden take us from the liquid plain to the traveling clouds of the infinite spirit, we leave the earth, and its very sky, to fully enjoy the supreme harmony of things, well beyond our little planetary world, in the full flight of our emotions ”(Clemenceau, Claude Monet: les Nymphéas, 1928). The decision taken to assign it to the Orangery, Monet designed, with the help of the architect Lefèvre, the elliptical arrangement of the two rooms intended to receive the canvases, an arrangement which removes the work from the traditional subordination to the frame. architectural. With this donation (nonetheless conditioned by Monet on the acquisition by the State of his Women in the garden of 1866), the painter offered to the Nation the "pledge [...] of the civilizing power of art" (P. Georgel, p. 17), while the state recognized the historical importance of Impressionism.

For more information on the series of Water lilies kept at the Orangery Museum, visit our website Panorama of art.

  • Clemenceau (Georges)
  • impressionism
  • Museum
  • Third Republic
  • garden
  • Mac Mahon (Patrice de)
  • Ferry (Jules)


Maurice AGULHON, Marianne in Power: Republican Imagery and Symbolic from 1880 to 1914, Paris, Flammarion, 1979. Georges CLEMENCEAU, Claude Monet: The Water Lilies, Paris, Plon, 1928.Pierre GEORGEL, Monet: The Water Lily Cycle, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, RMN, 1999.Pierre VAISSE, The Third Republic and the painters, Paris, Flammarion, 1995.

To cite this article

Philippe SAUNIER, “A public decor under the IIIe Republic "


  • Impressionism: An artistic movement bringing together all the independent artists who exhibited collectively between 1874 and 1886. The term was used by a critic to deride Monet's painting Impression Soleil Levant (1872). The Impressionists favored subjects taken from modern life and open-air painting.