Whizzing through countryside just northwest of Paris, glimpsing the serpentine Seine looping through flower fields, I thought, “No wonder young Claude Monet wanted to live near these paintable landscapes.” In fact, views from the train between Normandy and Paris are what inspired Monet to live in picturesque Giverny, where he could, in effect, create an outdoor studio of gardens and ponds. Of course, he painted en plein air throughout Europe, but his home and gardens became a major muse for Monet and a magnet for other artists.
May 2014 marked my third visit to Giverny. Sadly, the town becomes ever more touristic and commercial. Happily, the gardens remain delightful, if overwhelming. On each visit, I have sat on a bench with pen in hand. Words, don’t fail me now; help me capture this beauty. But no words came. So then I snapped some photos. And I include a few here. But trying to convey the scope and depth of beauty here by showing you a flower photo is akin to saying, “Here’s a picture of the world” and showing you a photo of an ant. Upon entering Monet’s garden, my vision went into kaleidoscopic overload mode. Then I stopped to appreciate.
First the eye takes in myriad hues. Fuchsia foxgloves, cerise poppies, cobalt columbines, blushing pink peonies. Then textures. Spiky allium balls, fuzzy iris beards, velvet rose petals. Then layers. Pansies tucked into poppies, salvias hugging shrub roses, apple trees espaliered along a split-rail fence. Wait, notice shapes. Ruffled scallops, whorled wisps, fat, thin, tapered, round. Oh, and levels. Short, medium-high, tall, some trained to grow up and curl over arched arbors and cascade down from tall iron umbrellas. Colorful choruses of flowers sing their glory in dense, jumbled, spilling masses; yet a pleasing order pervades the setting. Monet’s pink stucco house provides solid backdrop. Garden arbors and umbrella tuteurs are the same bright green as the shutters of Monet’s open windows. Wide, pebbled paths perpendicular to the house stripe through flower beds.
Design detail is masterful, polychromatic palette at once calming and vibrant, scope too grand to take in from a single vantage point. One is left with many beautiful impressions. I wonder if this place is, in fact, Monet’s living, breathing masterpiece.
I haven’t even mentioned Monet’s lily pads, pond, and gently arching green bridge. Also clearly designed for beautiful impressions, they are across the road from the gardens.
If you’re a Monet fan and would like to view the world’s largest collection (more than 300) of Monet’s paintings and learn more about the progression of his style, visit the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. Before Monet’s mentor, Eugéne Boudin, taught him to paint with oils, he was known to have a natural talent for drawing caricatures of his teachers and other locals in his childhood town of LeHavre. I enjoyed seeing some of these funny drawings at the Marmottan.