Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and the flower garden at Giverny

Grande Allee, Giverny
Pastel on Rembrandt Board (NFS)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

In 1883, Monet moved to a pink house in the Normandy village of Giverny with his two sons, Alice Hoschedé and her six children. The village of Giverny is situated on the right bank of the River Seine about 40 miles northwest of Paris. Monet's fortunes began to revive following the move, sales picked up from the mid 1880s and he began to prosper. His work was accepted by the Salon and an exhibition in New York was a big success. In 1892 he married Alice after the death of her husband and, having bought the house and garden at Giverny in 1890, he was then able to spend the second half of his life living there until his death in 1926. In total the garden was to inspire more than 500 paintings.

Monet's heirs bequeathed the house and garden at Giverny to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966. The Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris received the inheritance of the painter's son Michel (the little boy in the painting discussed yesterday) including over 150 works and personal affects (sketchbooks, press clippings, family photos, his father's palette) to create the world's largest museum collection of Monets. The Fondation Claude Monet was established to refurbish and safeguard home and gardens and opened the doors to visitors in 1980. Since then both house and garden have become an extremely popular attraction for people from all over the world. I visited the house and garden in the early 90s - and it's a visit which is still very clear in my memory.

One of the first things he did after he moved in was to start to sort out and transform the neglected orchard and potager. The garden later developed into having two parts - but the water garden came later and will be the subject of my next post.

The Flower Garden in the Clos Normand (Norman field).
My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.....
Everything I have earned has gone into these gardens.....

Claude Monet
When I visited Giverny for the first time I was immediately struck by the fact that Monet did not only create art with oils. His garden was also an artistic creation and is quite simply a living picture created out of nature. It's a sublime example of an artist selecting and creating the objects and their arrangements as part of the 'set-up' for his painting.

However, it should be remembered that Monet revealed towards the end of his life that gardening was something he learned in his youth when he was unhappy and he perhaps felt it had a healing quality. He also referred to his gardening at times as 'a fury of horticulture'.

This post focuses on the flower garden - sometimes referred to as the Clos Normand. I'm going to update this post with a plan of the garden(when I've done one!). In the meantime, here is what it looks like on Google Maps. The large dark rectangle near the top border is the house; the flower garden is then north of the road which runs left to right and the water garden - with lots of trees - is to the south of the road. The Grande Allee is the wide pathway running south from the house - it has a framework of metal arches which are used to create an arbour of climbing roses.

In total, the flower garden is about 3 acres (or 12,000 m2) and is designed in the French style with beds laid out in a geometric way and intersecting at right angles. However planting was far from formal. Monet planned and laid out and planted flower beds and borders according to plant varieties and colours. He carpeted with colour, planting flowers beneath the trees in the orchard and treating the whole garden as if it were the product of an artist's palette. Essentially Giverny has become of the ultimate garden of Impressionism and as one might expect there are numerous books about the planting schemes at Giverny.

The Garden, Giverny (1901-2)
Claude Monet
89 x 92cm, oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
He favoured densely packed clusters of bright flowers: blossoms cascaded over bowers; spread across gravel paths and blazed in the crowded borders. "My garden is slow work, pursused by love" he once said, "...I dug, planted and weeded it myself; in the evening the children watered"
Monet (Eyewitness Art)
"Monet had an unmistakeble taste for the unusual and exotic in his Giverny garden. Of course he planted dahlias and nasturtiums too; but as the years went by the garden became more and more a place of pale blue wistaria and purple irises, tuberoses from Mexico, waterlilies gleaming like mother-of-pearl, tufty clumps of bamboo."
Monet (page 72) Christopher Heinrich, (Taschen)
He loved to juxtapose colour. He apparently was particularly partial to blue and violet flowers and I vividly remember pale bluey violet purple shades of various types of flowers out of which grew different varieties with yellowey orange flowers. Proust apparently observed that the flowers were "arranged in a whole that is not entirely of nature, since they have been planted in such a way that only those flowers blossom together whose shades match or harmonise infinitely in a blue or pink expanse"
Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment......
Claude Monet
Interestingly the life of the household was completely designed around the needs of painting. I include it here for those who want tips on how wish to paint like Monet
Always up at four of five in the morning, depending on the season, Monet would open his window, on which the curtains would never be drawn and study the sky. Then, regardless of the temperature, he took a cold bath. Monet insisted that he loved getting up and that he often felt like returning to bed just for the pleasure of leaving it again.....
The prospect of prolonged work in the open air and several tastes acquired in the course of his travels abroad had given Monet regular breakfast habits....In England, he had learned he to like the best teas from Kardomah, while in Holland he had begun to eat cold meats and cheese, even to drink milk on occasion.....
Monet always returned home at eleven sharp for lunch, which was served promptly at 11.30...
After Lunch Monet indulged himself in a brief respite, taking his coffee in the studio-salon followed by a glass of homemade plum brandy. If the light had not changed too drastically, he went back to continue painting out of doors. Otherwise he remained in the studio working by himself on his sketches, until interrupted at seven by two rings of the dinner bell. Invariably he went to bed by 9.30 so as to be ready to go before dawn the following morning.
Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes
For those wanting to know more about the House and Garden I'd like to particularly commend "Claude Monet - Life at Giverny" by Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson) if you can get hold of a used copy. It is full to bursting with detail and photographs of the sort not often found in other books - including a lot taken by the family while living there.

Marion of painting.about.com has made some of her paintings of the house and gardens available here. These have been made available as reference photos for any artists seeking inspiration.

Paintings of the flower garden
I didn't become an impressionist. As long as I can remember I always have been one.
Claude Monet
Monet's flowers are his brush strokes in the living image of his garden. Although he loved books on botanical subjects, he was not an artist who placed a lot of emphasis on botanical detail and was not always very concerned about identifying individual types of flowers in his paintings. His focus was the overall impression and most particularly the effects of light. He also delights in luxuriant growth and often translates them into 'palpitating masses' which have no hard lines and are covered by touches of analogous colours. He also seems to develop a form of calligraphic mark-making for types of leaves or growth.

Irises in Monet's garden, Giverny (1900)
oil on canvas, 81 x 92cm

Claude Monet

His painting of irises illustrates the point about how his intention is always about the overall effect rather than the delineation of an individual flower. It also illustrates very well how the flower beds were always filled to overflowing.
He painted (the irises) with thick short strokes of pure pigment laid on side by side - rather tha mixed or scumbled, to approximate their natural fresh appearance. One visitor claimed that the bright bands of irises seemed to be floating 'like a maze of lilac in the sun'.
Monet's Gardens in Art Debra Mancoff
I also always seem to think of variations in dappled light when I think of Monet's paintings of gardens - he often seems to use dappled shadows and sunlit highlights to break up what could be seen as flat areas (eg pathways) or objects which he wants to hint at rather than reveal in plain view.

Interestingly, figures which dominated his early garden paintings don't feature at all in any done in the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, late paintings of the Grande Allee at Giverny provide evidence of the deterioration in Monet's eyesight while he was suffering from cataracts. Not only does detail disppear completely but his use of colours also changes radically with reds coming to the fore.

My artwork

Houses and gardens have been a theme of my artwork over the years. My pastel painting of the Grande Allee at Giverny in September at the top of this post - with the nasturtiums meadering across the path - was done some time ago and now hangs in my mother's home. I'm hoping to produce another one this week!

Tomorrow - unless I'm out pastelling - I'm planning a post about the water garden at Giverny.

Links: Books (see Claude Monet - Resources for Art Lovers for further details):
  • Monet Christopher Heinrich (Taschen).
  • Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson)
  • Monet's Garden in Art Debra P Mancoff
  • In the gardens of Impressionism Clare A.P.Willsdon
  • Artists' Gardens Bill Laws
  • Impressionist Gardens Judith Bumpus


  1. I felt exactly the same thing when I visited Giverny - that he was painting WITH the flowers and foliage and colours - that the garden is one huge 'painting'. :)

    - early conceptual art!

    there is a really interesting book by an Opthalmologist 'The World through Blunted Vision' that describes the effect of cataracts on the perception of colour. Monet was horrified at the colour distortion is some works done when his cataracts were at an advanced state snd after his cataracts were removed he burnt a lot.

  2. "I didn't become an impressionist. As long as I can remember I always have been one.
    Claude Monet"

    That's an interesting quote. Have you seen the article on his sketches/drawings in Artists Magazine, I believe last month? His drawings in that article were so different from the paintings we think of his.

  3. Was that the article about The Unknown Monet - the exhibition of his drawings? I went to see that with Vivien when it was at the Royal Academy in London earlier this year.

    I also did a post over on my sketchbook blog about his sketchbooks as I think most people would be very surprised by them - and hazarded an explanation for why they are as they are. I'm not sure I'm correct though!

  4. Yep that would be the article! Ooh that show must have been very enlightening. I love seeing the sketches of painters.

  5. Katherine, I am curating a show "Art of the Garden" to help raise money to save a library just outside Philadelphia. I was trying to figure out who would be the Monet of our times, and I haven't figured out who that would be yet! Any thoughts? I am thinking I should drop everything and devote myself to that endeavor! Meanwhile, please check out my blog www.artofthegarden11.blogspot.com and I would be most delighted if you thought to enter the show from as far away as the U.K. You would certainly add glamour!


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