Monet at Giverny
For reasons I do not recall, my mother ran an art enrichment program at my elementary school (good ole Valley Oaks Elementary, part of the Spring Branch ISD in Houston). She would bring in books and index card-sized replicas of famous paintings. Though I would never claim to be an art expert or connoisseur, the paintings and works that I remember were from Da Vinci, Picasso, Dali and Monet. This ultimately brought us to the house and gardens of Monet at Giverny.
We’d visited the Musée de l’Orangerie on our last trip to Paris (April 2019), and sat in the rooms with the massive Water Lillies paintings of Monet’s. Our first stop on our driving trip outside of Paris in July 2022, heading to our first evening in Rouen, was to see Monet at Giverny. It was about an hour drive out of Paris, off the highway a bit further than we thought. But we got there early enough (about noon) to beat most of the crowds – when we finished and were heading back to our rental car around 3pm to continue on, the line for tickets was long in the heat of the afternoon.
Claude Monet lived from 1840 to 1926, and moved into Giverny halfway through his life, in 1883. The two gardens (the Clos Normand garden, and the Water Garden across the street) and the house have been restored and furnished to resemble as close as possible to how they did during Monet’s time at Giverny.
Describing Monet at Giverny as a beautiful place does not do it justice. The Foundation Claude Monet have done and continue to do an outstanding job in the constant restoration and planting of the house and gardens.
After purchasing tickets, visitors walk through the gift shop which was originally Monet’s Water Lillies studio – where he painted the beautiful giant paintings that are on display at Musée de l’Orangerie. Once thought the shop, visitors enter the first garden.
The Clos Normand Garden
Stepping into the Clos Normand Garden, the first thing we saw (because they were clucking for attention) were the chickens in a pen by the house. But immediately after there was nothing but colors from the wide array of flowers.
When Monet first moved in, the area that is now the Clos Normand garden was an orchard with pine trees separating it into two sections. Monet had those trees cut down (except for the two yews near the house), and began planting the arranged sections that can be seen now.
This is a gallery of just some of the flowers we stopped and stared at. Clicking on each individual photo will open up a full sized version.
Monet was a proponent of painting en plein air (painting outdoors). The two gardens of Monet at Giverny (and the surrounding countryside, where he painted his Haystack series) provided ample subject matter.
In the center of this garden, from the entry to the house to the wall that now separates the garden from the road, is a main path covered by arches with roses growing on them.
There were, of course, many beautiful things in the garden.
We took several photos of the garden from inside the house when we visited it a bit later. The daily inspiration that Monet must have had by merely looking out his windows, or taking a walk in his gardens, must have been immense. Below is a photo from a second story window (where the bedrooms were).
And next is a photo of the view out of a window in Monet’s first flood studio – colorful and magnificent.
Saving the house for last, we followed the signs to the tunnel that went under the road and to the water garden.
The Water Garden and famous Lily Pond
Ten years after Monet first moved into the house at Giverny, he purchased the plot of land across the street. Much to the chagrin of his neighbors he sought and received permission from the prefecture to divert from the river Epte (which is a tributary of the Seine River) a small brook called the Ru. His neighbors were concerned with what these non-native species would do to the water.
The Japanese water garden seems to take inspiration from the Japanese wood block paintings that Monet collected.
It was here, beside the Japanese bridge, that Monet confided to Marc Elder: “It took me a while to understand my water lilies. I had planted them for pleasure; I grew them without thinking of painting them … You don’t absorb a landscape in a single day … Then suddenly I had a revelation, and I saw all the enchantments of my pond. I took up my palette … Since then I’ve hardly painted anything else.” The way Monet describes this passionate coup de foudre is striking: it was only gradually, and without any preconceived notions on his part, that the garden became a work of art.Monet at Giverny, Adrien Goetz, pages 67 and 76.
Though this is a restoration and recreation, everywhere one looks in the garden one can almost imagine a painting of that view.
Below is a video from the foot bridge of the lily pond.
And, of course, you can’t have a lily pond without water lilies – especially at Monet’s lily pond!
It was a beautiful July day, just before the big heat wave of 2022 hit Europe. The colors in the water garden were obviously different that in the Clos Normand garden, but no less spectacular. Click on any image in the gallery below to see the full photo.
We could have stayed all day walking around the water garden. But Monet’s house beckoned….
Monet’s House at Giverny
The home of Monet at Giverny is long and skinny; it is about 40 meters long and 5 meters wide. Facing the house, the left side was Claude Monet’s area, with his studio on the first floor and his bedroom above on the second. The house has three entrances where the left goes to Monet’s rooms, the middle is the main entrance and the right goes to the kitchens.
As with the gardens, the folks at the Foundation Claude Monet have used photographs to replicate the look and setup of the house as it was when Monet lived there. The best example is his drawing room studio. Below is a photo of Monet in his studio (a photo of that photo), and a picture I took during our visit.
The 59 original paintings that Monet had there have, of course, been replaced by replicas. From a brochure that lists the paintings currently on display in the studio:
The analysis of several photographs dating from 1915 to 1920, along with the meticulous study of the historical background of the Master’s paintings, have enabled the exact identification of those works present in Giverny in 1920.Painting reference brochure, Foundation Claude Monet
In contrast to his own paintings in his studio, in his upstairs bedroom Monet had paintings by his friends and other impressionist masters. There are paintings from Cézanne, Renoir, Pissarro and many others. Unlike his studio there were not many photos of his bedroom.
In addition to the displayed collections of his own art (in his downstairs studio) and of other impressionists art (in his bedroom) Monet had a thorough collection of Japanese woodblock art – more than 200 prints. The collection includes works from Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige and others. For conservation, as with the other paintings in the house, these have been replaced with facsimiles.
Below is a short video of the room called the Blue Salon where many of these Japanese works of art are displayed. As you can see through the door in part of the video, and in some of the other photos here of other rooms, these art works are displayed in several rooms in Monet’s house.
Monet had a large mixed family. There were two sons from his marriage to Camile Doncieux (Jean and Michel). Claude Monet’s second wife, Alice Raingo, had six children with Ernest Hoschede, the man who bought Monet’s painting Impression: Sunrise (the painting that lent its name to the impressionist movement). All lived together for some time with Monet at Giverny.
The photo below of the large yellow dining room had seating for twelve, with two large French doors that looked out over the garden. More of Monet’s collection of Japanese art works are displayed on the walls.
This was where the whole family sat down to lunch at 12:30 on the dot, the time ordained by Monet even if it meant the children had to come home from school early.Monet at Giverny by Adrien Goetz, page 31
Gravesite and Village
If you turn left as you exit the Monet house and gardens, you’ll walk down a street through the village and eventually to the Giverny Church. Several of the Monet family are buried in the Giverny Church Cemetery.
This is a somewhat ordinary gravesite for the extraordinary artist who helped launch the impressionist movement. I was reminded of Bobby Fisher’s very simple and solitary gravesite in Iceland. Just serves to remind all that the life led is more important than the burial plot.