I have a long list of places I would like to visit on a return trip to France, and one that would be very close to the top of that list is Claude Monet‘s house and gardens in Giverny. Even though I was not personally blessed with a green thumb, I love visiting beautiful gardens, I love history and I love Impressionist art. Doesn’t hurt that I also am extremely fond of Richard Armitage. His portrayal from youth to middle age of this brilliant painter passionate about art in the television series, The Impressionists is one of my favorites. Richard captured the enthusiasm, incandescence and sensitivity of the artist, with joy, frustration and pain glimmering in those cerulean blue eyes.
Monet did learn to love nature and was inspired by the beauty of flowers and water. For more than 43 years, he lived in the tiny village of Giverny, Normandy, in a charming house with a crushed pink brick exterior and grass green shutters.
Monet moved there in 1883 with Alice, his second wife. A piece of sloping land containing an orchard and pine trees was perfect for a garden. This become known as Clos Normand, a paradise filled with a rainbow of colors, amazing perspectives and symmetries.
The land at Clos Normand is divided into flowerbeds where flower clumps of different heights create volume. Fruit trees or ornamental trees dominate the climbing roses, the long -stemmed hollyhocks and the colored banks of annuals. Monet mixed the simplest flowers (daisies and poppies) with the most rare varieties, creating a riot of color to please the eye and excite both the painter and gardener. By the turn of the century, many artists were visiting Giverny to be inspired by nature’s beauty.
The central alley of Clos Normand is covered over by iron arches on which climbing roses entwine themselves. Other rose trees cover the balustrade along the house. At the end of the summer nasturtiums invade the soil in the central alley.
Claude did not like organized nor constrained gardens, preferring something more informal and inviting. He married flowers according to their colours and left them to grow rather freely.
With the passing years he developed a passion for botany, exchanging plants with his friends Clemenceau and Caillebotte. Always on the look-out for rare varieties, he bought young plants at great expense. “All my money goes into my garden,” he said. But he also added, “I am in rapture.”
The Japanese Water Garden
In 1893, ten years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet bought the piece of land neighboring his property on the other side of the railway. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. With the support of the prefecture, Monet had the first small pond dug, despite the objections of neighboring peasants who were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water.
Later on the pond would be enlarged to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and curves. It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly.
In this water garden you will find the famous Japanese bridge covered with wisterias, other smaller bridges, weeping willows, a bamboo wood and above all the famous nympheas which bloom all summer long. The pond and the surrounding vegetation form an enclosure separated from the surrounding countryside.
Never before had a painter so shaped his subjects in nature before painting them. And so he created his works twice. Monet would find his inspiration in this water garden for more than twenty years. After the Japanese bridge series, he would devote himself to the giant decorations of the Orangerie.
After Monet’s death in 1926, the house passed on to his son, Michel, who did not live there. Damaged by bombings during the war, the house and gardens had fallen into a sad state of disrepair by the late 1940s. In 1966, Michel Monet made the Academie Des Beaux Arts his heir.
In 1977, a decision was made to restore the garden and home to their states when Monet still lived at Giverny. A massive undertaking was restoration of the house with its shattered windows. rotting beams, collapsed stairways and even three trees growing inside Monet’s old studio. It took a decade to do so, but with the help of generous donors–many of whom were Americans–today Monet’s longtime home and gardens once again welcome visitors who come to marvel at nature’s beauty and to put their own impressions on canvas.
A House Brimming with Color
The original house was much smaller, but Monet had two large wings added, making it an unusually long structure. The extra space was needed for the family of ten to sleep, eat and entertain and for the artist to work . The barn next to the house served as Claude’s first studio with stairs connecting it to the house.
Monet's original studio.
While Monet mostly worked outdoors, the barn studio was a great place to finish canvases and to store them. This later become his smoking room where he would welcome art dealers, collectors, critics and other visitors. Above the studio there was an apartment with a bedroom and bathroom for Monet. He had another bedroom that connected to Alice’s via the bathrooms, and this bedroom was adorned with many paintings by fellow artists such as Renoir, Sisley, Morisot and Boudin.
This is the simple bed in which Claude passed away in 1926. You can see some of his fellow artists' work on the walls.
Monet chose all the colors for the interior, dismissing the dark, heavy Victorian woods so popular in favor of shades of blue, yellow, purple and green with lots of large windows to allow plenty of light and air to enter the home.
The man was obsessed with color. Monet's sunny yellow dining room at Giverny.
The charming country kitchen features a fireplace tiled in blue and white and a display of shining copper pans.
The furnishings and Japanese prints you see throughout the house are exactly the same as in Monet’s day, giving it a feeling of real authenticity. The house and garden are open for tours seven months out of the year.
An image of Claude Monet in his garden in Giverny with an unidentified visitor. From The New York Times photo archive, dated only 1922, author not given (the image presumably in a Times December 24, 1922 profile on the painter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(screencaps RAnet; home and garden images Wikipedia and Giverny.org)