A Visit to Monet's Garden
A trip to Giverny in Northern France is a delight. My students and I had been painting in ancient villages near the small village of Renazé in western France for a week, then packed our bags and painting supplies and headed to the northern coast to see Mont St. Michel, the American Cemetary at Normany, Honfleur Harbor and down to Giverny. It was a VERY long day! Arriving around midnight only to find that our bed and breakfast was dark, we rang the bell, and were met by a lady in her nightgown and cap and a lantern. We struggled with dragging our heavy bags up the stairs to our rooms. (No Lift!) It was July 3, and quite cool, not realizing that the lattitude was the same as Newfoundland!
On July 4th, that year it was a Sunday, and we planned to visit Monet's House and the gardens to find that special place that each of us wanted to paint on the next day, a Monday, when the gardens are closed to the public. We had made our reservations to do so approximately six months prior to our visit. At that time (2004) it cost each of us about $20 (USD) to be able to have the gardens to ourselves....and the gardeners, as Monday is "gardening day". Due to the lessened value of the US dollar now, the cost may be more, but it is well worth having the place to yourselves. They allow only 10 artists on the grounds on Mondays.
It was 40º F. (4.5ºC) and raining on that Sunday, but it didn't discourage the hoards of people that had paid to see the gardens and the beautiful lily pond that Monet painted so many times. We stood in line in the rain and joined the rest of the tourists, first finding our way through the gift shop (of course that is the way into the house and grounds). You can't avoid it, and it like a "sale at Macy's"....thick with people, grabbing things imprinted with Monet's paintings to purchase for family and friends at home.
A tour of the house was another interesting experience. We came to understand his infatuation with the oriental. Black and white images of oriental figures were hung "cheek to cheek" on the walls in his studio from ceiling to floor, in halls and other rooms. At one end of his studio there was a very large window through which light beamed; perfect for the artist. At the other end of the house was the famous blue and yellow tiled kitchen. To complete the look of the past, there were colorful chickens and a rooster in a pen just outside the door.
The Gardens are very formal in their design, but unlike our expectation of neatness. We are accustomed to the gardens in America that are neatly trimmed. Even though the beds are in formal rows, and have arbors of vines and rose trees that have beautiful blooms hanging in a weeping fashion throughout, I saw flowers that I had never seen before.
But still, I was a bit disappointed, having expected neatly manicured rows of color. But there were weeds, and haphazardly planted beds. There was a large bed of brilliant red geraniums at the back of the house, and when I turned around, I discovered that the house is covered in flowering vines....wysteria among them. Quite a change from the starkness of the house from the road. It is a simple, large, rectangular building that sits right on the Rue Claude Monet. There are a couple of other museums down this path, and we did find the time to see some of them during the afternoon.
We found our way to the back of the garden to the path that took us to the stairway to the tunnel under the road. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, following this strange tunnel, and upon arriving on the other side of the road, walked up the stairs into paradise! It was the path to the Lily Pond. Quiet, magical, peaceful and mysterical are the descriptive words that come to mind when I think of this beautiful place. Actually I found the drizzle a perfect atmosphere in which to photograph the garden. Ripples from the raindrops decorated the lily pond around the lily pads. All the while we were moving down the path and around the pond with the throngs of people, I was praying that our "painting day" would have a bit of sunshine in it AND some warmth. I couldn't imagine standing or sitting there all day in the cold rain after having waited with great anticipation of this event for so many months.
On Monday morning, July 5, we awoke to clouds, but before we finished our breakfast, they began to part, and the sun peaked through. Our prayers had been answered. Little did we realize, however, that the entire town of Giverny closes down on Mondays when Monet's Gardens are closed! No buses, no taxis, no restaurants! Where were we going to find lunch? There was a restaurant across the street from Monet's house, but even it was closed! Fortunately the manager of our B&B (at the corner just up the street from Monet's House) suggested that perhaps their cook could prepare sandwiches for us before they took the day off. So we were able to return there to pick them up when we wanted lunch. Problem solved. The students were happy to see some sunlight and shadows and parked themselves in various places to paint. The bench proved to be more comfortable than our portable stools!
By one o'clock in the afternoon, the temperature was warm enough to take off our jackets. It was a glorious day. Paintings from this trip can be seen on my other website: http://www.maboysen.com/MonetGarden.htm
Here I am sitting on one bridge (the one on the left), and painting the pond with the famous wisteria covered bridge (on the right) . Maybe you are one of many that didn't know that there are two bridges, one at each end of the pond. Their blue green color (oriental in both color and shape) blend with the surrounding landscape beautifully.
If you have any questions about the technique used in these works, please feel free to contact me. All but the large lily pad paintings, and the bridge with my painting palette, were done on site that day.
We watched and photographed the man in the boat who was cleaning the pond. Slow, deliberate movements with the net brought all sorts of debris to the surface and was disposed of. Other gardeners clipped the small amounts of grass with hand shears, and we obligedly moved aside as they passed, knowing that we could not obstruct their path, as it was their job to tidy the place up for the next masses of tourists. They appeared to be college age students, and certainly there were not enough of them to do a thorough job throughout the gardens. Theirs was a huge task for just one day per week. I hope that someday you, too, can visit the Giverny, Monet's Gardens and enjoy the ambiance at La Musardiére. The entire experience was uplifting and yet relaxing for this group of artists.