“His intellect never flags, he is eager to see and express everything. For Monet, there are too many subjects – there is beauty in everything that exists. All of it should be painted. Life is too short to try and set limits on its variety of sights and infinity of sensations.” Gustave Geoffrey, 1922
A Day With Claude Monet In Giverny
“A Day with Claude Monet in Giverny” sheds light on the artist’s life and art. Despite so much having been written about the painter Claude Monet at Giverny, this beautiful slipcased volume, a work of art in itself, holds its head above the rest.
Through vivid illustrations, photographs and texts we are treated to an unprecedented glimpse into the gardens, the home, and the home life that are the subject of the Impressionist’s most iconic paintings.
When I was there in the Spring it was impossible to stroll in the gardens without stopping every few steps. A canopy of tulips – thousands upon thousands of them; hundreds of varieties and colors – assaulted my senses. All around were expansive leafy trellises, and despite a certain well-thought-out order to it all, there was a great sense of whimsy. I could just imagine how larger trees standing silently by bore witness to many a laughter-filled outdoor party, or children playing hide-and-seek around their trunks. Birdsong permeated the air along with the thick fragrance of flowers that existed then as it did now.
Giverny catapulted to fame in 1883 when Monet discovered the village from a train window (that line has since closed down). It is where he spent the last forty years of his life, and it is where he is buried.
The gardener’s garden
At Giverny, the artist’s horticultural passion had become an obsession: he tirelessly studied gardening techniques and every gardening book he could get his hands on. He ordered topsoil and hundreds of bags of seeds, determined to conquer the chalky soil along along the banks of the Seine. He got rid of trees to create arched trellises that would span the length of the path leading to the house from the road but soon realized he would need a head gardener, and set about to find the most skilled and experienced one he could to help him realize the elusive harmonies he was searching for. The results were stupefying.
The book begins with an introduction by Hugues R. Gall, member of the Institut de France (Académie des Beaux-Arts) and Director of the Fondation Claude Monet. He notes that the surrounding countryside often surprises visitors to this region with its beauty, and compares it to Kent and Tuscany. Giverny, he says, creates an “indelible impression on our eyes and memories.”
From there we learn some of the area’s rich history and the appeal of the village itself. We are taken inside the walls of the garden known as the Clos Normand. Monet’s daughter-in-law Blanche learned to paint at his side and could see this area of the garden from her bedroom window. Later, Monet had the water-lily pond laid out nearby. An American colony of artists had discovered Giverny on their own and Blanche was falling for young painter John Leslie Breck, but Monet wouldn’t have any of it and forced them to break it off. Blanche, who later was to marry Monet’s eldest son Jean, revered Monet, and occupied the house after Claude died. But when she passed away in 1947 the home was abandoned and no one took care of it anymore: “The ruined flowerbeds were overgrown with weeds and vegetation.”
Inside Monet’s house Giverny
The home’s interior, especially for the period, bursts with light and reflects Monet’s great love of color and Japanese art, a defining influence in his paintings and garden design. Light enters from windows that overlook the gardens. In the kitchen, copper pots gleam against shiny blue and white tiles. Standing in the pastel yellow dining room one feels enveloped by sunshine, even on this cloudy day; it must have been quite cheerful to be seated around the family table sharing meals and tales of everyday life.
The book’s intimate vistas into Monet’s floral paradise and vie de famille, all beautifully laid out via hundreds of illustrations, mementos, photographs, and paintings, make this the next best thing to being there.
A Day with Claude Monet in Giverny (hardcover – slipcase) by Adrien Goetz (author); Francis Hammond (photographer); Hughes R. Gall (foreword); Publisher: Flammarion
Barbara Pasquet James is a U.S. lifestyle editor, speaker, and urban explorer who writes about food fashion and culture, from Paris. She is known for helping launch, write and edit USA Today’s City Guide To Paris and can be contacted via her photo blog focusonparis.com