From my Field Notebook: Giverny, France. June, 2015
Photos by Sim Tupa
“My only merit lies in having painted directly in front of nature, seeking to render my impressions of the most fleeting effects.” -Claude Monet
Today we are off to visit Claude Monet’s garden and home in Giverny, a commune located at the right bank of the Seine river where the Epte and the Seine converge. There are several ways by which to go to Giverny, by bus, car or train. We opted for the bus and as we neared Giverny, we enjoyed a relaxing, scenic view of the beautiful Seine river from our right-hand window. The bus trip going to Giverny was so enchanting that I totally understood why Monet fell in love with this place when he saw it from his train window. It is said that he rented a house here at first and when he had enough money saved from his art , he bought the property and made it his home in 1883, creating the two beautiful gardens which eventually became the inspirations for his paintings.
When you arrive in the property especially during summertime, expect a heavy crowd from buses and buses of tour groups coming from Paris lining up to enter Monet’s home and explore the two gardens. Even those people who purchased “no queueing” tickets still had to queue. It is that popular.
Summer is a special time to visit because it is when the garden explodes in rainbows of flowers of different shapes, colors and sizes. The honey bees busily buzzing its merry way collecting pollen, and the butterflies and hummingbirds darting from one flower to the next, sipping sweet nectar like there was no tomorrow.
People come during summers, when the magic unfolds in every morning dew perched on petals and leaves that even the most weary traveler forget their weariness.
To help understand Claude Monet, the great impressionist artist who owned, and helped create this gorgeous garden in Giverny for his art, it is important to know that when he was young, Monet met landscape artist Eugene Boudin who introduced him to ‘plain air painting’ or painting outdoors. Who would have known that this chance encounter would eventually become the foundation for his lifework and would play a major influence in acquiring and developing the Giverny property.
Monet is a very unique painter because he creates his art twice. First he designs and organizes what flowers and plants to grow in the gardens during a certain season, and the second part is when he paints them in his canvasses, forever freezing a fleeting moment in time.
Clos Normand is the first of two gardens and is located right in front of Monet’s restored home. He and his landscape artist planted fruit trees along with multi-coloured roses, holly-hocks and many annuals, mixing common flowers with rare ones to create an unstructured and unconstrained kaleidoscope of colors and symmetry.
Monet invested a lot on these gardens since these were going to be the subjects of his works, making sure to change the flower varieties to fit the ever-changing season. He made the gardens so beautiful that Giverny soon attracted other artists who painted here during the long summer months when Monet’s garden was in full bloom.
The second is a Japanese-inspired garden located across the street where you have to walk through a small tunnel underneath the road to safely go from one garden to the other. During Monet’s time, there was no tunnel at all, just a road and railroad dividing these two beautiful gardens from each other. It is in this garden where he planted water-lilies, bamboo plants, wisterias, weeping willows and many others, and then waited patiently in the morning for the mist to crawl down the pond so he could capture on canvas the magical interplay of the plants and water reflections. He had this pond made for the water lilies to thrive in and a Japanese bridge built over to make it possible to cross and go around the pond. As we explored this zen-like oasis, a cavalry of bull frogs resting on water-lily pads serenaded us with their rhythmic, guttural songs.
This garden eventually inspired Monet to create his famous Waterlilies series in small canvases, as well as the 12 water lily series in large scale, commisioned by Orangeries des Tuileries, a museum in Paris. The mission of these big water lily paintings that filled the walls of the museum is to soothe the very tired and stressed out visitors.
(Photo from Besuited.org)
The Monet house and gardens we see today in daily organised tours are no longer original. After the property was severely destroyed during WW2 in 1939-1945, not much of this place survived, so it underwent a major reconstruction. Based on the precious accounts of artists and landscape artists who frequently visited Monet in the past, the restoration of the place to its former glory took almost ten years to complete and was made possible through many generous donations coming from the US.
In 1980, Monet’s home and gardens were re-opened for public viewing in Giverny.
(Living Room with Monet paintings)