Monet’s Muse In Gardens at Giverny

Monet’s Muse In Gardens at Giverny

The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil, 1881. ©Photography: Fredrik Nilsen Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

One of the Monet’s favourite flowers was Iris germanica, which swamps his The Artist’s Garden painted at Giverny 1900. His passion bordering on obsession dwelt even deeper when it came to his water garden. In 1893, he acquired a marshy piece of land across the railroad. With a rivulet called Ru coursing around it, the land made for a perfect water garden spot. So Monet dug up the famous pond. He added screens of willows, Japanese cherries, gingkos, and other trees to the poplars naturally around and the weeping willows were positioned to overhang the water. Giant Petasites and rises came along the water’s edge and the arched Japanese bridge he erected in line with the central alley of his flower garden across the road was covered in wisteria. He filled the pond with the new hybrid pink and red water lilies, grown by the specialist Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac. With its current controlled through the sluice gates, Ru gently nourished these aquatically delicate waterlilies.

When dissatisfaction started to set in, Monet, after defiantly tussling with the locales and town council, acquired not only some additional land but also the right to divert Ru to fulfill the pond! For the next two decade of his life till his death, the pond would remain his only muse. The care for this water garden matched up to its paramount creation. One gardener working exclusively for it boarded a boat every day to float around trimming lilies as Monet instructed, and cleaning the pond to ensure the flawless reflection that Monet desired. The lily pads were washed daily and to keep the atmosphere untouched by the boisterous dusty winds, Monet even got public road beside the garden paved at his own expense.

Having said that, the pleasured that he received from his water garden was equal or perhaps greater the labour he put in it. Rising at the crack of dawn to espy its play of light, he would spend his days capturing its elusive shifts on water, lilies, and reflections of clouds. When he stumbled upon enticing views while haunting his haven alone, he would be back with his kit of a special easel, giant parasol, and large canvases and spend days painting.

Two versions of Monet’s famous Water Lilies or Nymphéas series of paintings. Both of these versions were painted in 1915.

At first, he focussed on the Japanese Bridge, exhibiting a series of those in 1900. Then, the pond’s surface attracted him and everything else for him obscured in the background. Working on the concurrent canvases from 1902 to 1908 he came with the Paysages D’eau or Water Landscapes series, which was exhibited at the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris in 1909. Liberated from the typically traditional notions of perspectives, the series received much critical acclaim. “No more earth, no more sky, no limits now,” declared historic French writer and art critic Roger Marx. As he prepared 19 panels for Orangerie’s “Décoration des Nymphéas” in the last decade of his life, this mystique of the pond and its water would envelop Claude Monet into deep seclusion.

Water Lilies and the Japanese bridge, 1897–99, Princeton University Art Museum.

The two gardens of Monet were at the same time contrasting and complementary to each other. One was in tandem with the modern gardening techniques while others was rooted in ancient Oriental traditions. His flower garden represented the contemporary boom in the horticulture industry. The colorful congregation blooming on the geometrically even dense patches looked like paint boxes. It reflected the contemporary garden designs and trend of ‘riot of colors’ in floral displays that transforms and renews with the changing seasons. The brilliance of this colorful pattern was noted by critic Arsène Alexandre who called it “a flower palette before him to look at all year round, always present, but always changing.”
On the other hand for his water garden, the water garden was inspired by the Oriental practices and his knowledge for it went beyond arching the Japanese bridge. This garden was quite similar pleasure gardens of the Taoist painter‐poets of China. Following the oriental tradition of mental relaxation through landscape art, the water garden was conceived with the idea of specific selections of trees and plants and of water becoming the mirror in an enclosed in a serene and meditative environment. Monet was an enthusiastic collector of Japanese prints and the idea for his Japanese Bridge has often been credited to Hiroshige, who has been called the last great master of ukiyo-e art prints. Complementing each other, the flower garden was seasonal and dramatic in the floral display, the water garden was subtle and tranquil.

For Monet himself, these gardens expressed deeper meanings. Making them a central concern of his life and his art, he escaped from the blow of the familial tragedy endured by the death of his second wife Alice in 1911 and of his eldest son two years later. It is also said that these gardens were his personal response to the First World War. In fact, when people of Giverny started abandoning this countryside for safety, Monet, despite the gunfire noises sniffing out the peace, stuck to his guns. “If those savages must kill me, it will be in the middle of my canvases, in front of all my life’s work,” he wrote on

December 1st, 1914. Staying back he painted the group of Water Lilies with Weeping Willows, expressing his sorrow of the national loss with the tree’s long, sweeping branches hanging over the water, symbolic of the ability to grow anew despite suffering great loss. He gifted two works from his Grandes Décorations to the nation “to honour the victory and peace” on the Armistice Day of 1919.

Water Lilies with Weeping Willows, 1916 – 19. © Lycée Claude Monet, Paris. Photography: Jean-Charles Louiset Exhibition co-organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Rather than adhering to any permanent ideal, Monet seeks stimulation from the ever-changing natural beauty. These paintings and the creation of gardens preceding them gave Giverny a position as an international art center for a circle of Americans eager to practice Impressionism at the heart of the Norman landscape. Today the museum serves as a landscape of great historical importance in the canvas of art history. Perhaps, Monet knew what he had done when he called his gardens “his most beautiful masterpiece.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *