Giverny: Experience Monet in Giverny and Paris
Destination: Giverny: The home of Claude Monet’s magical water lily gardens
Giverny is on the right bank of the Seine about 80 kms northwest from Paris. It is famous as the location of Claude Monet’s fabulous home and magnificent gardens.
We are not driving an autonomous car! Norman actually has a finger at the base of the steering wheel. I can’t wait for autonomous cars. There will be no drivers: front seat or back seat!
We programmed our GPS for Giverny. Her name is Jane. She is not a third wheel. We loved our ménage a trois in France. Jane did not freak out when we made a wrong turn. In a calm and quiet voice, she just said: “turn around when possible.” I was actually trying to capture the florescent yellow rapeseed fields. It was a beautiful drive through the French countryside.
Monet planned and planted his gardens at Giverny so that he could paint them
The Japanese bridge in Monet’s garden is designed for contemplation
Monet moved his family to Giverny so that he had space to grow his vision of perfect gardens for painting. Monet was a passionate horticulturist. He was the hands-on architect of his gardens, even after he hired 7 gardeners to carry out his plans. He bought a pond across the road from his house. He undertook an ambitious landscaping project. He drew up plans to divert water from a tributary of the Seine. The local council objected, fearing that his exotic flowers would poison their water. Monet won his battle and created his iconic pond with a Japanese bridge. He imported water lilies from Egypt and South America. He painted 250 water lily paintings.
Valves controls the flow of water into the pond
A vibrant pond needs a constant flow of fresh water. Even with flow controls, the ponds and gardens were flooded earlier this month with all the rain in France. The gardens were closed to visitors for a couple of days. Luckily we were there on a beautiful spring day.
This famous water lily painting hangs in my favourite museum, Musée D’orsay
The absolute best way to experience Monet is to visit Giverny; then visit the Paris museums that showcase Monet. The emotion of seeing the gardens and then seeing the paintings is hard to express. You need to experience this for yourself.
The museums in Paris that feature Monet are:
Musée D’Orsay http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html
Musée de l’orangerie http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/claude-monets-water-lilies
Musée Marmottan Monet http://www.marmottan.fr/uk/
Weeping Willow is the saddest name for a tree
The beautiful weeping willows in Monet’s water garden are my favourite shade of spring green.
Monet painted a series of weeping willow trees to honour the French soldiers who were killed in World War I.
Spring is a wonderful time to visit Monet’s gardens in Giverny
The azaleas were in full bloom when we visited Monet’s Gardens.
The gardeners work hard to highlight spring, summer and fall flowers.
If you want to see the water lilies, they bloom in mid summer.
Monet planted exotic lilies from Egypt and South America so that he would have white and blue lilies that fade to pink with maturity.
Monet’s boat was his floating studio
Monet bought a boat and outfitted it as a floating studio. Some of his most famous landscapes were painted from his floating studio.
Monet was a master of en plein air painting. Outdoor painting in natural light captures what the artist actually sees in that moment. The philosophy of en plein air painting violated the rigid rules of studio painting.
Two inventions contributed to the popularity of en plein air painting. The first is the invention of tubes for oil paint, like toothpaste tubes. Prior to this innovation, artists made their own oil paints in their studios by grinding and mixing powders with linseed oil. The portability of tubes freed the artist from the studio. The second invention was the portable easel. Monet could just fold up his easel, toss it in his boat with his tubes of paints and set out to create a masterpiece.
Monet featured his boat in some of his paintings
Monet’s beautiful French country house is open to visitors. The walls in Monet’s living room are recreated to look like they did when Monet lived there. In this photo, you can see one of Monet’s paintings that features his boat.
The walls in the living room and in Monet’s upstairs bedroom are jammed with reproductions of famous painting by Monet and his artist friends, such as Cézanne, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Boudin, Manet, and Signac.
Monet and his colony of artist friends created the Impressionism movement in art. These radicals rejected the rigid rules of studio painting. They applied pure, unmixed colours in short, bold strokes without blending or shading. They used colour and light to express emotion. They painted scenes of ordinary people doing ordinary things. They captured light at different times of the day to evoke the passage of time.
The art created by these outliers was soundly rejected by the critics. The term impressionists was coined by a hostile critic who wrote a scathing review of Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise. This radical bunch of young artists loved their new title and adopted it as their name for their new movement.
Impressions, Sunrise: This is where it all began
This is Monet’s painting that named the impressionist movement. It hangs in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
At a recent Christie’s auction, the hammer price for a water lily painting was $24 million. In 2014, a water lily was auctioned for $54 million.
This is another part of Monet’s living room wall with two famous paintings of his Study of Women
See the originals
The after seeing Monet’s Study of Women on his living room wall, I was thrilled to see the originals in Musée D’Orsay
This is a photo of Monet in his living room
Monet’s Dining Room is Sunshine Yellow
The walls in the dining room are decorated with Japanese prints from famous Japanese artists that Monet collected over 50 years.
Monet designed a blue kitchen to complement his yellow dining room
Thank Gérald Van der Kemp and American money for the magnificent restoration of Monet’s House and Gardens
It takes a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of dedication to maintain Monet’s house and gardens as they looked when he created his masterpieces.
When Monet died, he left his entire estate to his only surviving child, Michel, who subsequently died heirless in a car crash. Michel bequeathed the estate to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. By that time, the house and gardens had been neglected for 30 years and were in terrible condition. The Académie turned to Gérald Van der Kemp for help.
Gerald Van der Kemp was the French art expert who masterminded the restoration of Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles and saved the ”Mona Lisa” from destruction by the Nazis.
In the 35 years that he was in charge of Versailles, Mr. Van der Kemp devoted himself to returning its principal galleries, apartments and rooms to the way they looked in the 17th and 18th centuries, after many years of neglect by a nation ambiguous in its attitude toward symbols of royalty.
Mr. Van der Kemp scoured the world for treasures sold after the French Revolution and assembled an army of master craftsmen — carvers, plasterers, gilders, silversmiths, seamstresses — to repair or recreate the palace’s lost splendors.
But probably his most important contribution to that task was to mobilize another kind of army, an army of the rich, to supplement the French government’s modest financial contribution. He set up the Versailles Foundation in New York City with his second wife, Florence Harris, an American.
Most of those who funnelled money into the reconstruction of Versailles were Americans, including two generations of Rockefellers, Barbara Hutton, Estée Lauder and the Wildenstein family of art dealers. Funds also came from European and other benefactors, including the French branch of the Rothschild family, Pierre David-Weil of Lazard Frere, the investment bank, the Aga Khan and Arturo Lopez-Wilshaw, a rich Argentine.
In 1977 the Institut de France asked Mr. Van der Kemp to restore Monet’s badly run-down house and garden at Giverny,
Once again Mr. Van der Kemp turned to private benefactors for financial help, expanding the Versailles Foundation to include Giverny. And when the renovated pink farmhouse, with its yellow dining room, blue kitchen, flower-filled gardens and lily pond, was opened to the public in 1980 about 95 percent of the project’s cost had been met by private contributions.
I learned this story on the restoration of Giverny in a delightfully unexpected way. As a new blogger, I face the same challenge as all bloggers: how to reach an audience. I started surfing on Instagram to draw readers. Under the Monet hashtag, I stumbled upon this portrait of Van der Kemp, with a beautiful background of waterlilies, with this description:
This is a portrait commission I painted many years ago of the great Frenchman Gérald Van der Kemp. He is responsible for restoring Versailles and Monet’s house and gardens. He is also credited with saving the Mona Lisa from the Nazis whle narrowly escaping death.
Well, this was enough of a teaser for me to connect with the artist, Jon Swihart, who lives in Santa Monica, California. We are now Instagram friends. Jon responded:
I lived at Monet’s home on an artist residency for a magical year back in 1988
You can see all of Jon’s fabulous works on Instagram at jon.swihart.art
Everyone needs a magical year in their lives.
Can you imagine your magical year in Monet’s house at Giverny!
Monet’s Original Garden
When Monet first moved to Giverny, he planted his front yard with exotic flowers and trees. Later, he bought the land across the road to build his water lily garden.
Thank Walter Annenberg when you visit Monet’s water garden
Walter Annenberg was a wealthy American publisher, philanthropist and diplomat. Over his lifetime, he donated over $2 billion to education. He said
Education holds civilization together
Annenberg was an avid collector of French impressionist art. In 1991, his collection was valued at $1 billion. When he died in 2002, his collection was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Annenberg donated the money to build an underground passage from Monet’s front yard garden to the water lily garden. Countless tourists can thank Annenberg for making their trek across the road a safe one.
A wave with no horizon and no shore
At the end of World War I, Monet created a monumental set of water lily paintings, dedicated to the French nation as a symbol of peace. This series of water lily paintings are reflections in the water. Monet described them as a wave with no horizon and no shore. The viewer is projected into the middle of a limitless pond.
Two large oval rooms were built in the Orangerie to house eight panels that Monet donated. They will never go on tour because they are glued to the walls.
When I sat in the middle of the oval rooms in the Orangerie, surrounded by Monet’s water lilies, I imagined that I was in Monet’s boat in the middle of his water lily garden in Giverny.
It is magical to see Monet’s water lily garden in one day and see his monumental paintings the next day
Plan your trip to Giverny
It is a 45-minute train trip from Paris to Vernon. From there, you can take a bus to Givery. We drove so I cannot comment on how well this works.
We stayed over night in Vernon. If we were to go again, we would stay at a B&B right in the little village of Giverny.
Please return next week for:
Paris: City of Lights; City of Love
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