Abstracting Water

“Branch of the Seine near Giverny” by Claude Monet

“Branch of the Seine near Giverny”
by Claude Monet

Water is perhaps the most subtle substance on the planet, and thus gives artists a never ending challenge. How does one capture the essence of water in a painting? Does the artist try and catch it exactly the way we see it? Or does the artist convey hints and expressions of what the substance does?

Water In Art

Many artists have included water in their works, in fountains, streams, lakes, waterfalls, even oceans. One artist in the Impressionist period who frequently included water in his works was the French painter Claude Monet. He even went so far as to create a water garden as part of his flower garden on the property he owned in the latter part of his life. He had water lilies planed in his pond and painted them in many different ways through his last years.

In his earlier style, there lurks a residue of closely representational impulse, which gives his work a more “realistic” approach.


“Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow” by Claude Monet

“Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow”
by Claude Monet

Monet and Water

In his 1897 painting “Branch of the Seine near Giverny,” Monet captures a glimpse of the water in a way that lets the viewer feel the quiet peacefulness. He worked at conveying the sense of light on the vegetation and water, making the viewer feel the soft air and lapping water.

Years later, in 1916-1919, he worked on “Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow.” At that time, his eyes were affected by cataracts. The viewer of the painting can certainly feel in the broader, rougher strokes of this painting how the artist’s own ability to see his subject had led him to a type of abstraction in presentation.

If one moves beyond how Monet represented water in this later picture, where can one go? What will an artist chose to focus on in trying to express water on canvas?

Water in Abstract

"Water Dreams" by Diana Hobson

“Water Dreams”
by Diana Hobson

Diana Hobson chose to capture a sense of water in motion in her “Water Dreams.” The painting is rich in the blues we tend to associate with water. Rising out of the heart of the work is a splash of whiteness like a breaking wave, without quite being a wave. She hints at other aspects of water, making the viewer reach into his or her own experiences.  The artist abstracts our own experiences from our minds by invoking them in the painting, giving us a new way of looking at both the painting and the world of water around us.


“Branch of the Seine near Giverny” by Claude Monet, 1897. Painting located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow” by Claude Monet, 1916-1919. Painting located at Musée Marmottan Monet

“Water Dreams” by Diana Hobson, copyright Diana Hobson.


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