A footbridge reveals the human-nature relationship

The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny, 1899 — Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On a sunny summer day, a modest bridge surrounded by trees sits above the lilies, exuding an air of tranquility in the middle of prospering flora.

     Displayed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Claude Monet’s 1899 painting Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny illustrates the harmony between the human world and nature with the well-chosen bridge and plants, as well as the attention to details such as light and positions of the object.

     Green occupies a majority of the space in the painting. Trees, grass, and lilypads dominate the water and the sky, which conveys a message about the strength of natural life. The Japanese bridge, on the other hand, suppresses itself by blending into the environment because of its wooden color and texture. In this way, Monet not only prevents the bridge from appearing abrupt to the viewers but also adds a subtle state of order in the middle of the anarchic plants.

Artist Claude Monet, 1899 — Nadar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

     The garden tells the story of the artist and his affection for the natural elements in Asian cultures. Monet, who was French and lived in Giverny, France, turned his pond into a water garden that contains Asian-influenced objects. In 1895, he made an addition to his water garden: a Japanese-styled wooden bridge. 

     The particular design of the bridge serves as evidence of Monet’s appreciation of nature in his life. There were countless designs in Japanese architecture that include superfluous decorative structures and glaring red paint, but he picked the most straightforward kind. The simplicity embodies the spiritual aspect of Japanese philosophy that stresses the unity between human and nature.

     Monet’s philosophy behind the painting and the design of his garden offers his contemporaries and modern readers an interesting perspective. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the continued industrialization became a center of human development; in our revolutionary informational era, technology keeps updating and prompts its omnipresence in our lives. The painting shows the exact opposite of the steampunk and cyberpunk motif of our society during these two unprecedented periods in human history. The ongoing global pandemic teaches us an important lesson: we still need to interact with the outside world despite our astonishing technology achievements. Taking a walk in nature can bring us some relief from being confined in a concrete box all day. Perhaps it is worthy for us humans to consider, at least partly, the approach that promotes our coexistence with the environment.

The bridge in the middle, representing a connection made by humans, integrates the separated trees and lilies visually in the painting.

     In addition, as the originator of impressionism, Monet emphasizes on accurate depiction of active light and implements fine yet visible strokes. In the hundreds of Monet’s paintings that depicted scenes from the same garden, Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny stands out for its excellent use of lights and shades, colors, and thin strokes. In this painting specifically, the alternation between bright and dark green color on the plants invigorates the static objects, giving the viewers the sense of changing sunlight and shades that the artist experiences. Also, the pink and white lilies introduce some warm color enclaves inside a painting that consists of mainly cold colors like green and blue, which shifts the tone away from despondency.

     Monet’s positioning of the bridge also opens up another interpretation of humans’ role in the natural world. The bridge in the middle, representing a connection made by humans, integrates the separated trees and lilies visually in the painting, which signifies that noninvasive human creations can augment the well-being of the environment and become a balancing force that promotes harmony.