It is difficult not to develop an affinity for Claude Monet when you live in France, especially in Paris. One of my favorites of the Impressionist’s movement (along with Renoir, and Boudin, bien sûr), M. Monet’s works can be found in numerous museums in Paris, as well as at his beloved Giverny, where you can walk among his self-designed and hand-planted gardens that inspired so much of his work, and oggle at the reflections in the pond of his famous water lilies and Japanese footbridge.
Claude Monet was a man with a vision and visionary friends who rejected the old school approach to landscape painting and looked to nature herself as his teacher. He was a patience observer of the natural world, and found solace and pleasure in watching the play of light, timing and seasons on his subjects.
Supported by his parents, he attended the Le Havre School of the Arts and was befriended and mentored by Eugéne Boudin himself. It was Boudin who introduced him to the idea of painting “en plein air” (outdoor).
Every spring I steel myself to face the throngs of tourists who gather at Giverny, and every year despite the crowds, I’m always glad I’ve made the pilgrimage. Even with what seems like thousands of Russian voyagers snapping thousands of photos, Giverny still offers a flavorful feast for the senses.
His gardens at Giverny are like his paintings—gaily colored patches that are sometimes a bit muddled and cluttered, but at the same time perfectly composed. His estate is split into two gardens. The first is the walled garden laid out in stunning symmetrical flowerbeds with a splendid path running down the middle, sheltered with iron trellises and climbing blooms. The second garden is the water garden—home to the famous Japanese bridge and water-lilied pond reflecting the blue sky, white clouds, wisteria, and weeping willows that line the shore.
Monet spent more than 40 years planting and painting at Giverny. I find it fascinating to think about him and his family meticulously planting their gardens first – creating a tangible, living piece of art—while at the same time envisioning what he would produce on the canvas. I am enchanted by this man who essentially created his artwork twice—first shaping it in nature and then sitting among it and putting it forth on the canvas.
As fond as he was of painting his garden, pond, and water lilies, Monet was also inspired by the banks of Seine and frequently painted en plain air. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean and was especially inspired by Venice, and continued his outdoor works in London, but at Giverny, his famous paintings literally come to life. It’s pure magic.
If you don’t have enough time (or patience) to make the trip to Giverny in the spring or summer, I highly recommend stopping by l’Orangerie in Paris where you can see his famous nympheas (water lilies) in a gorgeous space built specifically for them blooming all year long.
Other places to see Monet in Paris:
The Musée d’Orsay and the Marmottan-Monet Museum which has a wonderful permanent Monet collection and is currently hosting what I have heard is an amazing expo: Les Impressionnistes en privé: Cent chefs-d’oeuvre de collections particulières. (The Impressionists in private: One hundred masterpieces from private collections.)