After seeing many original works of art by Claude Monet in Parisian museums, it only makes sense to journey 45 minutes out of the city to his home and gardens at Giverny. So that is just what we did yesterday.
Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 and lived there until his family moved to Normandy in 1845. By the time he was ten, Monet had already enrolled in the Le Havre Secondary School of the Arts to feed his passion for art. At this time, he worked mostly in charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for 10-20 francs each. In Normandy, Monet met several other artists such as Eugène Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind who taught him to use oil paints and a technique known as “en plein air.”
When Monet’s mother died, he traveled back to Paris to live with his aunt. After joining the army and subsequently contracting typhoid fever in Africa, Monet’s aunt helped get him out of the army and back into art school. He was disillusioned with traditional art school though, so in 1862 he became a student of Charles Gleyre, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley. This group shared new approaches to art, painting in a style that would later become known as Impressionism. Its tenets include painting the effects of light en plein air with broken color and rapid brushstrokes.
One of his first famous works was of future wife, Camille, in The Woman in the Green Dress. Throughout the 1860s-1870s, Claude, Camille, and their growing family (2 boys) moved throughout Europe, focusing on his painting. In 1879 Camille passed away from tuberculosis. Monet went through a dark period of grief but resolved to focus on his artwork and subsequently produced some of the best paintings of the 19th century. He became involved with Alice Hoschedé, mother to 6 children of her own, and together they raised all 8 children. They spent time in several Paris suburbs, but Monet was never settled.
Giverny is a tiny village in Normandy, home to about 500 people. But when Claude Monet first saw it out of a train window in 1883, the village was near half that size and immediately appealed to Monet. He picked up his family and moved from Paris to a rented house on 2 acres. Facing increasing prosperity with his paintings, by 1890 he had saved enough money to purchase the house and land and subsequently build the gardens he had always dreamed of.
From his arrival in Giverny to his death in 1926, Monet focused on series paintings, in which one subject was depicted in various light and weather conditions. His gardens at Giverny were the subject of many famous works of art, most notably Water Lilies. He loved building his gardens and as his wealth grew, they did too. At one point, he employed seven gardeners. His house in Giverny has two very different garden styles, the rectangular clos normand, featuring shrubs and bushes scattered like an English Garden in all shapes and sizes, and the water garden featuring a Japanese bridge and water lilies.
Nearing the end of his life, Claude Monet developed cataracts in both eyes which greatly affected his painting. He painted in a redder hue, typical of cataract victims, but repainted some works after having eye surgery. Monet’s final water lilies series is housed in the Orangerie museum in Paris. You can read my previous post Un Dimanche Parfait for information on this series. Monet died at the age of 86. Forty years after his death, his home and gardens at Giverny were bequeathed to the French Academy of Fine Arts by his son. Following a restoration, the home and gardens were opened to the public in 1980.
If you are interested in Impressionist art, gardening, or getting out of the city for a few hours, please consider a visit to Giverny. Even with the influx of tourists, this haven of rest gives off a calming vibe. It is not hard to see why one of the most famous French artists of all time chose Giverny as his home.