When Monet Destroyed His Paintings

Monet flower girl
Monet Flower Girl, a Painting Monet’s Garden lesson, 16X16, oil

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If you could choose one point in time in the distant past to visit, what time would you select? One of my favorite works of fiction is the Doomsday series by Connie Willis. It’s a story of scientists who are able to pinpoint periods in the past where they can visit and observe, with strict orders not to alter the historical events they witness. As you can imagine, things never go as planned, in life or in fiction.

If I could go back in time, I would like to be there when Monet created the first in his Les Nympheas (water lily) paintings. He destroyed some of these works in frustration, certain no one would understand or appreciate them. I imagine there was quite a pile of canvas and wood, considering the size of the paintings. Were these among the lost masterworks of all time, like the portrait of Winston Churchill by Graham Sutherland, destined to be obliterated because Churchill hated it?

Could you have sat there, quietly, not interfering while Monet’s damaged paintings were left in a rubbish pile for disposal? I am already picturing myself trying to fish out a portion of one of those canvases to sneak back to the present. Dressed in period specific clothing, skulking about in the bushes like an extra garden hand, and dashing away with a torn roll of stretched linen tucked under my arm could be hazardous. Alternatively, I could have simply explained to Monet that, in today’s world, just one of those paintings sold recently for $41 million. He may not have believed me, so I would have to bring proof. Already I can see dozens of ways this fantastical sojourn could go sideways, not the least of which would be losing my awesome time traveler job for violating the terms of my employment.

Monet’s artist friends did try to discourage him from destroying his paintings, and tried to lift him up during his later life, when he went through periods of depression. He was stubborn, otherwise he would never have persisted in his lifelong struggle to be an artist, despite times of hunger and homelessness. He was known to put his foot through canvases or slash paintings already scheduled for exhibitions in Paris. Something tells me no matter what brilliant scheme were devised, we could not stop him from destroying the first of the water garden paintings.

The night before the grand exhibition of Les Nympheas, he agonized and almost called off the whole event. He still doubted anyone would understand or appreciate the work. Doubting yourself and your work is definitely something many artists do. Maybe it’s a small comfort, even a tiny one, to know the masters experienced this same self-doubt. A noted contemporary artist posted recently that you should never show your work until you feel accomplished in your journey. If Monet had taken her advice, where would we be today? Who is to judge what is good and what is bad art? In the words of my gifted friend and contemporary impressionist Pierre van Dijk, no one can judge this. As artists, we can only keep working and keep painting, because that is what we were born to do.

Have you ever doubted your own work? Did you find a way to over come that? I would love to hear your story!

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Pack your sun hat, your colorful brushes, and your love for flowers and gardens – your invitation to a summer with Monet is here! Painting Monet’s Garden, my new online workshop, opens in 10 days. With eight full-length lessons to download and keep, prepare to embrace the place Monet loved best in the world!

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Nancy Medina

Nancy Medina

Nancy is a master signature artist and instructor with over 1500 online students from around the world. She has worked with Disney, served on the art faculty of the Dallas Arboretum, and teaches workshops in France, Italy and across the US. More about Nancy

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  1. Delaine, you’re so gifted, I had a moment of surprise to hear you ever had doubts, but isn’t it funny that we all do, no matter where we are in our journeys. The longer we paint, the more we see wrong in our paintings, that part doesn’t change, but I think we also learn to head off those sidesteps and get from point A to point Z much more efficiently, and skillfully. Thank you so much for sharing that. I can definitely see the enjoyment you feel reflected in your work!

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