A mixture of regret and vitality characterises Monet’s late paintings of the water lily pond in his garden at Giverny. Painted during the First World War and after a period of intense mourning, a sense of human mortality pervades them by contrast with the everlasting endurance of nature. Time appears to stand still in these paintings although glints of sunlight reflected on the surface of the pond imply the time of day. Surrounded by paintings in his studio, Monet created his own consoling world, to heal the psychic pain of bereavement.
Turner’s studies for the Petworth commission make little distinction between water and sky, as all dissolves in the diminishing glow of the sun. Trees and shrubs collapse into patches of paint and the whole becomes a liquefied mass. The Petworth paintings were begun either shortly before or shortly after his father’s death. Their emphasis on the setting sun may also express intimations of mortality. The final paintings have a certain air of despondency. These images remind the viewer once again of finality and provide another link to Twombly’s Quattro Stagioni 1993–5, and its classical reference to death: ‘Et in Arcadia ego.’
Twombly’s monumental painting Untitled 2007, one of a series, appears to depict peonies, although Twombly apparently disclaimed such specificity. The peony is associated with Japanese Edo-period screen paintings and, like such a screen, Twombly’s painting is split into panels. The red paint trickles down the canvas, like blood or tears. Transience and regret are central themes in this work, but it is also a hymn to sunlight, sexuality, and regeneration. A Japanese haiku on the right evokes the erotic and the morbid, exuberance and joy.