Monet The Gardener: Life, And Art, Grow At Giverny

  • Le clocher Sainte-Catherine by Claude Monet, 1867. The bell tower of Sainte Catherine, located in the village of Honfleur in Normandy, is not actually connected to the church itself. The builders wanted to prevent the church roof from collapsing under the weight of the bells, and they also wanted to avoid a fire in the church in case the tower was hit by lightning. (Musee Eugène Boudin, ...
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    Le clocher Sainte-Catherine by Claude Monet, 1867. The bell tower of Sainte Catherine, located in the village of Honfleur in Normandy, is not actually connected to the church itself. The builders wanted to prevent the church roof from collapsing under the weight of the bells, and they also wanted to avoid a fire in the church in case the tower was hit by lightning.
    Musee Eugène Boudin, Honfleur. Photo: Henri Brauner
  • The bell tower of Sainte Catherine. The church is unusually shaped — it resembles an upside-down ship, probably because Sainte Catherine was constructed by shipbuilders in the 15th century.
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    The bell tower of Sainte Catherine. The church is unusually shaped — it resembles an upside-down ship, probably because Sainte Catherine was constructed by shipbuilders in the 15th century.
    M. Lombard, Office du Tourisme de Honfleur
  • Personnages sur la plage de Trouville by Eugène Boudin, 1865. Boudin advised the young Monet to paint outdoors, or en plein air, in order to take advantage of natural light. Soon, painting en plein air would become a hallmark of the impressionist movement.
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    Personnages sur la plage de Trouville by Eugène Boudin, 1865. Boudin advised the young Monet to paint outdoors, or en plein air, in order to take advantage of natural light. Soon, painting en plein air would become a hallmark of the impressionist movement.
    Musee Eugène Boudin, Honfleur. Photo: Henri Brauner
  • Conversation sur la plage de Trouville by Eugène Boudin, 1876. The incredibly prolific Boudin painted more than 800 pieces over the course of his career, the vast majority of which depicted beach scenes and ships.
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    Conversation sur la plage de Trouville by Eugène Boudin, 1876. The incredibly prolific Boudin painted more than 800 pieces over the course of his career, the vast majority of which depicted beach scenes and ships.
    Musee Eugène Boudin, Honfleur. Photo: Henri Brauner
  • The beach at Trouville. Trouville became a popular tourist destination in the 19th century, when a new craze for "sea-bathing" swept through France. Its boardwalk was built in 1867.
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    The beach at Trouville. Trouville became a popular tourist destination in the 19th century, when a new craze for "sea-bathing" swept through France. Its boardwalk was built in 1867.
    Loïc Durand, Calvados Tourisme
  • Impressionism: Sunrise, by Claude Monet, 1872. This painting is usually credited as the founding work of the Impressionist movement, with its sketchy brushstrokes and emphasis on lighting effects at the expense of human figures.
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    Impressionism: Sunrise, by Claude Monet, 1872. This painting is usually credited as the founding work of the Impressionist movement, with its sketchy brushstrokes and emphasis on lighting effects at the expense of human figures.
    The Art Archive/Musée Marmottan Paris / Superstock
  • Le Havre Waterfront. Claude Monet grew up in Le Havre, a seaside town in north-western France. Over the course of the 19th century, Le Havre became a thriving industrial center, with much of its economy focused around its busy port.
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    Le Havre Waterfront. Claude Monet grew up in Le Havre, a seaside town in north-western France. Over the course of the 19th century, Le Havre became a thriving industrial center, with much of its economy focused around its busy port.
    *heloise* via Flickr
  • Rouen Cathedral doorway and tower in morning light, harmony in white, by Claude Monet, 1894. This is one of the 30 paintings of Rouen Cathedral that Monet worked on in the period 1892-1894. The artist focused on capturing the effect of light on the stone masonry at different times of day.
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    Rouen Cathedral doorway and tower in morning light, harmony in white, by Claude Monet, 1894. This is one of the 30 paintings of Rouen Cathedral that Monet worked on in the period 1892-1894. The artist focused on capturing the effect of light on the stone masonry at different times of day.
    The Art Archive/Musée d'Orsay Paris / Gianni Dagli Orti
  • Rouen Cathedral in the Afternoon, by Claude Monet, 1894. Monet would usually work on the cathedral paintings from 7 in the morning until 6 or 7 in the evening, painting up to 10 canvases at once.
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    Rouen Cathedral in the Afternoon, by Claude Monet, 1894. Monet would usually work on the cathedral paintings from 7 in the morning until 6 or 7 in the evening, painting up to 10 canvases at once.
    The Art Archive/Pushkin Museum Moscow / Superstock
  • Hotel Des Finances. Monet began working on his series of the Rouen Cathedral from the first floor of this 15th-century building. At the time, it was a lingerie shop, and Monet had to work behind an improvised screen so as not to disturb the shop's customers.
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    Hotel Des Finances. Monet began working on his series of the Rouen Cathedral from the first floor of this 15th-century building. At the time, it was a lingerie shop, and Monet had to work behind an improvised screen so as not to disturb the shop's customers.
    JF Lange, Rouen and Seine Valley District Tourist Office
  • Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1906. This was one of many in a series of paintings Monet did of the lily ponds surrounding his Giverny home.
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    Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1906. This was one of many in a series of paintings Monet did of the lily ponds surrounding his Giverny home.
    Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago
  • A closer view of the water lilies in the gardens surrounding Monet's home in Giverny. Monet made his garden, now a popular tourist attraction, with the help of his family and six gardeners.
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    A closer view of the water lilies in the gardens surrounding Monet's home in Giverny. Monet made his garden, now a popular tourist attraction, with the help of his family and six gardeners.
    iStockphoto.com
  • Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet, 1900. Monet loved the way light moved over the lily pond at Giverny, which is spanned by small green bridges.
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    Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet, 1900. Monet loved the way light moved over the lily pond at Giverny, which is spanned by small green bridges.
    Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Another view of of Monet's garden as it is today. Monet modeled this part of the gardens, surrounding his house, on Japanese gardens. The artist was an avid collector of Japanese prints, which influenced Impressionism as a whole.
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    Another view of of Monet's garden as it is today. Monet modeled this part of the gardens, surrounding his house, on Japanese gardens. The artist was an avid collector of Japanese prints, which influenced Impressionism as a whole.
    iStockphoto.com

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By the time painter Claude Monet moved to Giverny, 45 miles outside of Paris, he and his first wife, Camille, had already lived in Le Havre, Paris, Etretat, Argenteuil and Veutheil. In fact, the Monets moved around a lot — sometimes at night to avoid angry landlords — but it wasn't until the painter spotted the village of Giverny from a train in Normandy that he began to build himself a home.

"He looked out the window and saw this charming village. So he just got off the train," says Normandy tour guide Brigitte Mueller. "He walked until the first pub, sat down, had a big jug of cider and talked to the local people."

Monet learned that a local carpenter had recently inherited a farm that he didn't need. Monet rented it in 1883 and moved in with his future wife, Alice — Camille had passed away in 1879 — along with his two children and her six.

By the time Monet died in 1926, the 86-year-old painter had spent almost half his life in Giverny.

Monet's House At Giverny i i

Claude Monet bought his house in Giverny seven years after he first started renting it. He worked hard to create the gardens, later featured in his paintings, around his home. Fondation Claude Monet hide caption

itoggle caption Fondation Claude Monet
Monet's House At Giverny

Claude Monet bought his house in Giverny seven years after he first started renting it. He worked hard to create the gardens, later featured in his paintings, around his home.

Fondation Claude Monet

'All The Color And The Life'

Alice was pretty authoritarian by most accounts, but that didn't stop Monet from enjoying life's simple pleasures.

"He loves eating; he likes women; he loves smoking," says Lauren Eshobar of the Monet Foundation.

Monet was a big, hearty, disciplined Norman who loved his life in Giverny as much as he loved his work there. And when you see his house, you understand why. Its ivy-covered pink facade and bright green windows make for a striking combination. It was in that house — which the painter bought in 1890 after his work started selling in America — and in its carefully designed gardens that Monet devotedly and deliberately created works of art that today's visitors to Giverny can actually walk through.

With the help of his family and six gardeners, Monet planted, nurtured and composed his garden — a world of flowers made up of yellow, pink and red roses arrayed on the ground and draping over metal arches; patches of bright red geraniums; pale purple lavender; deep purple pansies; irises; impatiens; peonies and more.

"It's almost like he's flicked his paintbrush and it just landed on the green," says visitor Nigel Whittaker of Birmingham, England. "It just looks like one of his paintings, and brings out all the color and the life."

The splendor of Monet's garden is available outside and inside the house.

"The most beautiful thing here is the look out of the window," says Mueller. "If you'll look through the window, it's like a frame, it's like a picture, it's like a painting."

"It's amazing; you can almost imagine Monet here in his garden," says visitor Sara Whitham of London. "His spirit is here."

Claude Monet

Monet loved his life at Giverny, and the town attracted tourists and other artists alike -- but Monet never allowed visitors to interrupt while he was painting. Sacha Guitry/Courtesy of Fondation Claude Monet hide caption

itoggle caption Sacha Guitry/Courtesy of Fondation Claude Monet

The Pond Of Monet's Inspiration

Before Giverny, Monet had painted what others had created: the cathedral at Rouen, haystacks and steam locomotives. But at Giverny, Monet made the subjects of his paintings. By placing the flower beds just so and shaping the paths in pleasing curves, Monet built his canvases first in flowers, then in paint.

He bought some adjacent land and put in a pond with small green footbridges, clumps of bamboo along the edges and willows that bend toward their watery reflections. He added lily pads — floating circles of green, with spiky white and pink blossoms that open up when the water reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Monet loved the pond's reflections and the way light seemed to shift the space when moving over it. In his final years, he became obsessed with his patterned, abstract paintings of the lilies.

But according to Mueller, the pond of Monet's inspiration wasn't particularly easy to maintain.

"Monet had one gardener who was in charge of the pond, and his task was to fish out all the dry leaves and prevent the water rats from eating the waterlily bulbs," she says.

Monet himself took daring steps to realize his masterpieces.

"He needed water to have his pond," Mueller says, "so without any official permission, he brought one arm of the river through his garden."

The town tried to fine him when he tapped the Epte River, but his friend George Clemenceau — a powerful journalist, politician and future French prime minister — stepped in, and Monet got to have his pond.

Two centuries later, the canvases Monet created of his gardens are found in some of the world's major art museums, as well as in the new Museum of Impressionism in Giverny. Even today, they serve as reminders of the sweetness of the French countryside — or "Douce France" in the words of the old Charles Trenet song — painted so lovingly by Claude Monet.

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