MONET’S NOW-FAMOUS GARDEN AT GIVERNY, A MAGICAL LANDSCAPE OF FLOWERS AND WATER, WAS ORIGINALLY A PLOT OF WEEDY MARSHLAND ABUTTING A RAILROAD TRACK
Getting a behind-the-scenes look at an artist’s studio is both inspirational and enlightening — one can learn a great deal about an artist’s process by exploring his or her work environment. For example, in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, the archetypal studio was a cavernous space housed in a tumbledown warehouse or abandoned barn — the better to work on heroic-size canvases employing sweeping gestural strokes.
Traditional styles of representation, meanwhile, call for large north-facing windows and areas for the staging of models or still life setups.
The Ultimate Impressionist Went Another Way
The great Claude Monet took a different path. Inspired by the fleeting color effects of light and atmosphere, Monet preferred to work in nature, directly in front of his subject.
Monet’s adoration was not for nature unbridled. He made his garden into his studio. Undisputedly French, he preferred nature tamed to fit the classical ideals of restraint and balance — albeit enlivened by a touch of fashionable Japonaiserie.
Discovery of a Haven
Monet first set eyes upon Giverny from the seat of a train. By April 1883, he’d rented a large farmhouse called the Press House and began living there full-time along with his two sons and his then companion Alice Hoschedé and her six children. The property also included an orchard and extensive gardens.
Making It His
Monet’s now-famous garden at Giverny, France, a magical landscape of flowers and water, was originally a plot of weedy marshland abutting a railroad track. He bought the property outright seven years after he arrived, in 1890, and subsequently diverted part of the Ru, a nearby brook, to create a lily pond surrounded with exotic plantings.
He began a stunning transformation on the gardens as well. Hundreds of thousands of plants cover the property and are replaced each year.
By 1887, Monet wasn’t alone in Giverny. A colony of foreign artists, many of them American, had settled in the area.
It was the charm of Giverny that drew these painters, including John Singer Sargent. It kept them coming for almost 30 years. Around 100 artists visited the village during that span of time, soaking up the impressions of light, air and color.
For his part, Monet considers these visitors a nuisance but he had little contact with them. Over the years, he was content to stay on his own property, devoting more and more time to depicting his water garden and Japanese bridge.
Here, with the pond as his inspiration, Monet completed his most celebrated triumph — the water lily series on display in Paris at the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Monet spent close to 30 years in Giverny. He died in his home there in the winter of 1926. He is buried in a family vault at the village church.
Your Gardens, Your Studio
Follow in Monet’s footsteps and make the garden your studio muse. Discover how to capture lush foliage and gorgeously colored flowers in pastel with the Learn to Paint Gardens in Pastel Video Download.
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A version of this story appeared in Artists Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.