PARIS, February 27, 2017 – Located about ninety minutes outside of Paris is Giverny, a small town that receives thousands of visitors that are in search of the water lily ponds of Claude Monet’s Gardens.
For some tourists, it is no more than a guidebook curiosity. To others to sit and look out over Monet’s water lilies floating serenely in still water is a life long dream. To see the light that dances over this two-and-a-half-acre farm house, the light brilliantly captured by Claude Monet.
Monet’s Gardens are now just as they were at the time of the artist’s death. Born November 14, 1840 (d. December 5, 1926) Monet is recognized as the founder of French impressionism and no journey to Paris to visit the great museums of art can be complete without a visit to Giverny.
At Giverny, we see Monet’s home, gardens, and ponds as he left them. The property was bequeathed to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966, carefully restored before opening to visitors in 1980.
One walks into the property and enters into a forest glen, crossing over a quickly moving stream, and crossable moat of sorts, that wanders beneath towering trees and past brilliant bursts of wild flower colors.
And there is the pond, Monet’s green flat-bottomed boat sitting still along the bank as if waiting for the artist to once again give it purpose.
A sharp intake of breath is the realization of where you stand. Seeing in three dimensions that which has been studied in two. See what Monet saw, hear what he heard, smell what he smelt. Feel the cool air, earthy with the fragrance of the surrounding fields basking in the midday sun.
Walking around the tourists, taking a seat on the bridge where, feet hanging down and leaning forward, one can look down into the water, memorizing every shadow, every reflection, every bright blast of color buried in the many shades of green and brown that surround the pond’s banks.
Circling the lily pond must be done quietly and slowly. As the mid-day progresses, the light changes quickly and the colors change and new shapes, colors, emerge. See it now, and then later, and see it change
The house is as brilliant, and still, captured as a moment time. The study is iconic, and overwhelming, as faithful reproductions of Monet’s work hang from wires just as they did when the artist was in residence.
The garden provides a view of blooming flowers, climbing vines and every shade of green.
Monet was a collector of the Japanese woodcut prints, called Ukiyo-E (“paintings of the Floating World”) and the home is filled with them. They are fabulous.
Impressionist artists of the mid-late 19th Century included Monet, Renoir and Degas as well as Pierre_Auguste Renoir, Alred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille all who studied under Charles Gleyre. These artists were devoted to the work of Edouard Manet and their ranks grew to include Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, and Armand Guillaumin.
And these artists rejected the more traditional art of the time that were mostly historical reproductions, portraits, or religious themes. The governing body of French art, The Academie des Beaux-Arts, rejected the young group of artists who believed in painting en plein air, or outside, where they could capture the changing light.
The Academie leaders did not recognize the brilliance of seeking to not provide an exact picture, but to capture the light and color that dominated landscapes. These new artists employed brush strokes that were short, the colors pure, saturated and vibrant.
It was in 1872 that Monet painted a landscape of Le Havre Sunrise and impressionism was defined from a very public disdain for the art form by art critic Louis Leroy who wrote a scathing review of Monet’s Impression Sunrise.
“Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” – Leroy
Leroy’s article, The Exhibition of the Impressionists, stated that Monet’s masterpiece was little more than an unfinished sketch. The artists of the genre readily adopted this definition of their work and one of the most important bodies of work was born.
Monet’s most famous model was his wife Camille and Monet captured her time and again, the most famous being her walking through the fields, their son Jean just beyond her.
Their life was fraught with Monet’s financial failure, and in 1868, the artist attempted suicide. In 1879 Camille died of tuberculosis, which Monet attributed, at least in part, to the poverty in which they lived.
Moving to Giverny and his beloved gardens in May of 1883, it was not until 1890 that Monet’s work was in such demand that he was able to buy the house, exterior buildings, and lands on which he constructed his pond and gardens.
Monet’s success came from his being able to create large numbers of canvases for NY art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.
It was at this time that Monet began to create series of paintings like the fifteen paintings of the Haystacks series, each showing the same view only at different times of the day, each showing how light could change the painting even as the subject stayed the same.
He also did a series of paintings based on his beloved water lilies.
With success came the ability to travel, and Monet traveled the Mediterranean, seeking new views to capture. He also married his second wife, Alice, while his son Jean married Alice’s oldest daughter Blanche, who eventually took care of Monet in the last years of his life.
Claude Monet captured moments of light on canvas. Not a photographic moment, but a split second of time and light. His paintings, even those of the very still waters of the pond and the floating lilies, are alive hundreds of years after his death.
Traveling to Giverny from Paris can be done by train, private car, or by tour.
For this visit, the choice was Paris City Vision tours, which provide you with a knowledgeable driver, a comfortable mini-bus, lunch at the picturesque restaurant Moulin de Fourges where a three course meal becomes a feast.
Once at Giverny, you are given time to explore the gardens and home before walking the short distance to the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny where curators stage remarkable exhibit.
During this visit, the museum exhibited words from the collection of James T. Dyke:
This exhibition brings together a hundred major works selected from the drawings from Dyke’s private collection and the donation he made to the National Gallery of Art. This selection focuses on artists active between 1830 and 1930, from Delacroix to Bonnard, Vuillard and Signac. With a great wealth of subjects, styles and techniques, the exhibition offers a wonderful example of the general evolution of modern design in France, romanticism and the Nabis Neo-Impressionists. (reference Musee des Impressionismes)
Giverny is open daily from March 29th to November 1st . Hours are 9:30 am to 6:00 pm with the last admission at 5:30 pm. Regular admission for adults and seniors is about $12.50, children under seven are free and tickets for disabled visitors are approximately $6.50.
There are also rates for groups of 20 or more.