A Garden for Monet

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Mimicking Monet’s love of gardening, students will create paintings and transform their classroom into a garden gallery, using The Water Lily Pond for inspiration.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • listen actively to a book read aloud by the teacher;
  • identify and describe artistic elements in a painting;
  • compare a painting to illustrations in a book; and
  • use unusual tools to create their own painting inspired by an artist.

Lesson

  1. Begin by sharing Monet’s The Water Lily Pond with your students. Give students plenty of time to look at the painting and share their observations. Have them imagine they are a frog sitting on one of the lily pads. What would they see? What would it feel like to sit on a lily pad? What sounds would they hear? What would they smell?
  2. Using the About the Art section, talk about how Monet was an avid gardener who turned his gardens into works of art. Share with students that Monet tended to his plants as carefully as he did his paintings.
  3. Read The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt to the class.
  4. Have students look closely at Monet’s painting. How are the illustrations in the book similar to The Water Lily Pond? How are they different? What colors do they have in common? What shapes are the flowers? Help the students recognize that even though Monet’s flowers don’t have the same shape as real flowers, we can still tell what they are because of the setting, the colors, and even the title of the painting.
  5. Explain to the students that they will be creating garden paintings in the style of The Water Lily Pond using different materials such as sponges, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and pencil erasers.
  6. Distribute paper, paper plates with paint, and various painting tools to the students. Allow students plenty of time to experiment with the materials so they can understand what type of print each one makes. Encourage them to try different tools and painting techniques and to try to emulate Monet’s painting. Some techniques the students could try are: creating dots with pencil erasers or cotton balls; sponging paint to create reflections; and making grass or leaves with cotton swabs. Encourage the students to experiment with lots of different painting techniques and to explore and create their own painting style.
  7. Mount the finished paintings next to each other so that the classroom walls are transformed into a garden scene. Show Monet’s painting again. How does the wall of paintings remind students of Monet’s garden? Do they think this display would remind Monet of his real garden?
  8. Invite parents and other classrooms to view your class art gallery.

Materials

  • One copy of The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt
  • Paint
  • Paper plates
  • Construction paper
  • Assorted utensils for painting (e.g. sponges, cotton balls, cotton swabs, clean pencil erasers, brushes in a variety of sizes)
  • About the Art section on The Water Lily Pond
  • One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

The Water Lily Pond

Waterlilies or The Water Lily Pond (Nymphéas)

1904

Claude Monet

Who Made It?

The most widely known French Impressionist, Claude Monet [moe-NAY] was born in Paris and grew up on the Normandy coast. His father was a wholesale grocer, and after his mother died when he was 17, an aunt encouraged Monet in his efforts to become an artist. With a local reputation as a caricaturist, he attracted the interest of landscape painter Eugene Boudin [boh-DAN], who introduced Monet to plein-air painting. Plein-air is French for “open air” and refers to paintings created outdoors.

In the 1860s, Monet joined a group of young artists who began to challenge the rules for how good paintings were made. These young artists had so much trouble getting their work exhibited that they created their own independent exhibition, which yielded only ridicule and a sarcastic label. That label—derived from Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunrise of 1874—stuck, and the group of artists became known as the “Impressionists.” Impressionists were initially criticized for their unworthy subjects, unrealistic colors, garish color combinations, and loose, seemingly unfinished brushwork.

Like many other Impressionists, Monet had little success in his early years. He most often chose to paint landscapes and leisure activities—everyday activities that were considered to be unworthy subjects for art, compared to the highly respected religious and mythological subjects. With his paintings, Monet strove to capture a fleeting moment by rendering the nuances of light and color in nature. He wanted to depict the feeling or sensation of a scene, rather than the individual objects that existed within the composition. As the public opinion of Impressionism became more favorable in the mid-1880s, Monet’s paintings began to sell well and by the turn of the century, he was one of the world’s wealthiest artists.

What Inspired It?

In 1883, Monet, his second wife Alice Hoschede, and her eight kids moved to Giverny [GEE-ver-KNEE], a town about an hour outside Paris where he lived the rest of his life. “These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. They are beyond the power of an old man, and I nevertheless want to succeed in rendering what I perceive…,” said Monet of his garden at Giverny, where he painted many versions of the The Water Lily Pond. An inspired gardener and a perfectionist, Monet designed his garden like he was changing the costume on a model or arranging a still-life—to look exactly as he wanted to paint it. He built an arched bridge based on Japanese designs across one section of the pond. He also got permission to control the incoming water flow, creating the right conditions to grow a new hybrid water lily that would be hardy enough for the French climate. He orchestrated color and plant arrangement (including irises and weeping willows) around the edge of his pond for the best reflections. He pruned dead water lily blossoms and even went so far as to trim the pads. He even paid to blacktop the road that crossed his property because he didn’t like the dust that settled on his plants.

Monet would work on a painting for half an hour and as the light changed, he’d switch out the canvas he was working on for another, frantically trying to find the one that best matched what he was currently seeing. He complained, “It’s a continual torture to me!” Monet worked on a continuous series of water lily paintings from the late 1890s to 1910. About three hundred of his paintings are of his floral and water gardens. Ever self-critical, he was known to slash his paintings with a knife when he feared he had overworked them. Only four water lily paintings from 1904 survived his rampages—this painting is one of them.

Details

High Horizon
High Horizon

Monet started out painting broader views of his pond, but increasingly narrowed his focus downward until he was only showing the water’s surface. This painting was done somewhere in between, showing no sky and only a bit of the growth around the pond’s edge.

Sense of Depth
Sense of Depth

In his water lily paintings, Monet often rejected the painter’s usual tools, like lines of perspective. However, you can still see the recession of space, mainly because of the diminishing scale of the clusters of flowers—the further away the flowers, the smaller they appear.

Reflection
Reflection

A large portion of the painting shows the surface of the water. Monet paints both the actual flower clusters on the water’s surface as well as the changing effects of light reflected in the water. For Monet, the reflection was really the subject of his painting. He said, “The water flowers are far from being the whole scene; really, they are just the accompaniment. The essence of the motif is the mirror of water whose appearance alters at every moment.”

Layers of Paint
Layers of Paint

Monet worked his canvases over and over, adding many layers of paint. For the flowers, he applied such thick globs of paint that they project out from the canvas’s surface, but he painted the water so sparingly that you can still see the texture of the canvas underneath. Compare the drier application of paint in the water, the thick application of paint for the flowers, and the lively swirls of paint in the plants on the bank.

Bristle Marks
Bristle Marks

Monet often used a brush made of stiff bristles; in some places, you can see the mark of the bristles in the paint. He also used a softer, rounded brush in places where the paint rises up from the canvas.

Color
Color

Monet said in 1905 that he only uses five colors: cadmium yellow, vermillion (a red), cobalt blue, emerald green, rose madder deep (a pink), and silver-white. While we don’t know for sure that Monet only used these five colors in this Denver Art Museum painting, it is entirely possible, as Monet made that statement only a year after finishing it.

No Black
No Black

Monet felt that black had a dulling effect, so instead of black, he used a color’s complement to darken an area. You can see reds laid into the greens in the darkest part of the water.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.