Art museums often deliver surprises, some of which are statistics like this one: the world’s most extensive collection of Monet paintings is in the Marmottan Monet Museum of Paris.

Nympheas, 1903.  Oil on canvas, approximately 29" by 36".  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Nympheas, 1903.  Oil on canvas, approximately 29″ by 36″.  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

The museum inherited its Monet artwork from Michel Monet, Claude’s son.  Its collection spans the painter’s lifetime: in addition to such landmark Impressionist paintings as Impression, Sunrise, the Musee Marmottan Monet has numerous landscapes from the 1880s and 1890s, and many paintings from his beloved garden at Giverny.

The Monet water lilies steal the show.

Nympheas, 1915.  Oil on canvas, 4'3" by 5'.  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Nympheas, 1915.  Oil on canvas, 4’3″ by 5′.  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Students of Monet paintings know that he often painted the same scene or object in different light at different times of day. His wonder at the effect of light lasted his lifetime.  Some of the recurring motifs explored in different lighting conditions included the Rouen cathedral; poplars; haystacks; Paris’ train station, the Gare Saint-Lazare; and his garden.

Le Pont de l'Europe, Gare Sainte-Lazare. Oil on canvas, 25" by 32". Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Sainte-Lazare. Oil on canvas, 25″ by 32″. Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

In Le Pont de l’Europe, the steam from the trains captures light and melds seamlessly into the sky.

For the 1877 exhibition alone, Monet exhibited seven variations of this train depot,  Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Sainte-Lazare, 1877.  This work has a traditional foreground and vanishing point between the two buildings, and while broaching abstraction, still retains elements of traditional painting.

Most vestiges of academic painting disappeared in the last thirty years of his life, when Monet focused almost exclusively on the motif of water lilies (Les Nympheas in French); there are 250 Monet paintings of water lilies alone.  In discussing them, he declared:

“The subject is not important to me; what I want to reproduce is what exists between the subject and me.”

Claude Monet repeatedly ignored prevailing, popular artistic trends (think of the Nabis, Pointillists, Fauvists and Cubists).  Toward the end of his life, he completely eliminated the subject from his work, paving the way for the birth of abstract art.  Nowhere is this better seen than in one of his last Nympheas, above: inarguably, Monet’s later impressionist paintings were the foundation of abstraction.