Impressionist Decorations

Tracing the Roots of Monet’s Water Lilies

Until July 11th, 2022
Chrysanthèmes, 1897, Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Chrysanthèmes, 1897
Collection particulière
©Fredrik Nilsen Studio / Fredrik Nilsen
Impressionism is rarely associated with the term decoration, nor is it associated with walls, objects, fans, ceramics or other bas-reliefs. However, Impressionist works that are now seen as easel paintings - landscapes, flowers or scenes of modern life - were originally conceived as decorations. Concerned about the place of beauty in everyday life, the impressionist artists made it a field of experimentation, venturing out into different media, and fully exploring their possibilities.




“It has been my lifelong dream to paint walls,” Degas confided. The artist was not alone in his desire to participate in the many decorative works of the late 19th century. Although Monet and the Impressionists did not receive official commissions for them, they produced paintings and decorative objects throughout their careers. They experimented with many techniques while redefining in their own way the very idea of “decorative,” a paradoxical notion, both positive and depreciative, and one at the heart of the artistic practice and aesthetic and social thinking of the late 19th century.


This aspect of Impressionism is little known today. Yet the Water Lilies cycle at the Orangerie, which Monet called his “great decorations,” crowns more than sixty years of forays into this field. And if the paintings exhibited by the Impressionists shocked, it was also because they were seen as simple decorations, devoid of meaning and dedicated to the sole pleasure of the senses. Didn't a critic write in 1874 that what Monet was painting was akin to “wallpaper”?


Thus, for the first time, this exhibition invites visitors to explore another history of Impressionism with works by Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, and Renoir from around the world, some of which are rarely or never shown in France. It shows how, through some eighty paintings, fans, ceramics, or drawings, the Impressionists blazed a new trail, with the conviction that, to quote Renoir, art is made above all to “brighten the walls.”


Friday, March 18 - 12:00 pm: Attend the interview with the exhibition curators, Sylvie Patry and Anne Robbins, followed by the screening of the documentary Quand les impressionnistes voulaient peindre les murs, directed by Marie-Christine Courtès.


Hold onto your ticket...

... and continue your discovery of Impressionist masterpieces: throughout the exhibition “Impressionist Decorations. Tracing the Roots of Monet’s Water Lilies” (from March 2 to July 11, 2022), you will receive reduced admission to the Musée d'Orsay within fifteen days of your visit, upon presentation of your admission ticket.



Find all the information in the detailed presentation.

Read the detailed presentation


Brochure of the exhibition
pdf, 2.3 MB
Booking required for this event


  • Sylvie Patry, Director of Conservation and Collections, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
  • Anne Robbins, Curator of painting, Musée d’Orsay

Assisted by

  • Isabelle Gaëtan, Head of Documentary Studies, Musée d’Orsay
Partenaires ou Mécènes

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