Meanderings through France ~ Giverny, haven of peace by a genius, Claude Monet
Giverny is a lovely village in the province of Normandy, located on the right bank of the River Seine, 50 miles northwest from Paris. Claude Monet lived there for 43 years and Giverny was the place where he painted his famous “Nympheas”. His home and garden still are as they were when the artist lived there. They are open to the public from April till October and 400 000 visitors from all over the world come every year to discover this enchanting place.
Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 but he grew up in Rouen, a town set in Normandy, where his father ran a shop selling colonial items. As a secondary school pupil he became well known in town by drawing caricatures of prominent citizens. He showed his drawing in a shop where painters bought brushes, canvases, gouaches… This is where he met Eugene Boudin a famous painter known as the “King of skies”. He became Monet’s first Master and taught him to paint outside and to understand the importance of light.
Later Monet went to arts schools in Paris where he made friends with Bazille, Renoir, Sisley…But it soon came obvious to him that he couldn’t follow the academicism rules. He created his own new pictorial process, juxtaposing spots of colours to create an “optical blend”. Although the paintings he made at that time are now worth a fortune Monet was far from being rich. Things got easier when he met Mr Durand-Ruel in London in 1870. This art dealer made him famous in Great Britain and in the United States. It was only after becoming a celebrity in these countries that he was recognized in France! No man is a prophet in his country!
Still his paintings often got bad reviews in conservative newspapers and artistic magazines. In 1874 one of his paintings called “Impression, Soleil Levant”, meaning: “Impression, Rising Sun” was part of an exhibition. To mock Monet and the other artists following the same technique and source of inspiration, one journalist called them “Impressionistes” intending to make fools of these unconventional painters. Today no one can remember the name of that journalist but the Impressionists’ work is internationally appreciated.
Eventually success and recognition came and Monet got wealthy in the late 1880. He was able to buy the house in Giverny where he lived as a tenant with his 2 sons, his second wife and her six children since 1883. Monet truly fell in love with his garden and became a fervent gardener: he enjoyed buying, exchanging and planting plants and flowers. He actually worked in the garden, far from the “cliché” of an artist locked in his artistic world. He did it with the help of the children and of 7 professional gardeners!
Nowadays the house and the gardens look like Monet created them and visiting them you will be able to see them just like Monet did.
The “Norman Garden” stretches in front of the pink house full with thousands of flowers: roses, nasturtiums, daffodils, tulips, iris, poppies, peonies… Monet designed it as one of his painting: a juxtaposition of colourful spots. Over the past 3 years a brilliant British gardener, James Priest, is in charge of “restoring” the Monet spirit in the gardens and the result is stunning! You may feel like you walk in one of Monet’s painting recreated by a real artist.
In 1893 Monet bought another piece of land running on from the Norman Garden to create his “Water Garden”. He was very fond of Japanese art and culture, so he made himself an Oriental garden. He diverted a small river from its bed to create a pond and built a Japanese bridge over it. Plants were chosen to evoke this far away country: bamboos, ginkgo trees, maple trees, lilies, weeping willows… To liven up the pond Monet said that he “chose different kinds of water lilies at random in a flower catalogue”. These water lilies are now known all over the world as Monet’s Nympheas. His gardens were his own creation and his source of inspiration: he spent his last years in Giverny painting his Nympheas.
The house looks like a lively family house and going through the rooms you can easily imagine Monet, his wife and their eight children entertaining their numerous friends. In 2011 a fiddly restoration was undertaken and the rooms look as close as possible to what they did 100 years ago. A tremendous job and a remarkable result! Monet’s studio, his study, the blue lounge, the yellow dining room, the bedrooms look the same.
Giverny and Monet are inseparable and Monet though of his gardens as his masterpieces. No wonder that he once said:” Flowers probably made a painter of me”.
Giverny information at www.fondation-monet.com
To see the “Nympheas” paintings, go to Paris at the Musée de l’Orangerie,
To know more about Impressionism you can go to an other museum in Giverny: the Musée des Impressionnistes”, www.mdig.fr
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny