A Memorable Place

Artist's vision of Monet's inspirations

By Ginda Simpson


On a recent visit to France, I had the opportunity to visit Giverny, a rural village about 30 miles northwest of Paris. It is where Claude Monet had his home and studio, and where he immortalized his gardens in paintings.

The 19th-century farmhouse was unpretentious when Monet rented it in 1883. Its barns became his studio, looking out onto a kitchen garden and a flowering orchard. Beyond the road, poplars border a rippling stream, and a half-mile away is the winding River Seine, bordered on each side by wooded hills. The original little orchard was the beginning of a gardening endeavor that lasted 40 years.

During the decades after Monet's death in 1926, his house and gardens gradually fell into neglect. Upon the death in 1966 of Monet's second son and heir, Michel Monet, the entire family property was bequeathed to the Academie des Beaux-Arts. A costly restoration of the artist's house, gardens and studios took four years to complete, and in 1980 the Claude Monet Museum opened.

The gardens attract many visitors, art lovers and garden enthusiasts. The Clos Normand is a provincial village flower garden and lies in front of the house. I wandered along the paths bordered on both sides by an endless profusion of color: petunias, zinnias, fuchsias, sweet peas, geraniums, day lilies, roses and morning glories. All these were planted by the artist, then immortalized on canvas.

It is no wonder that in these gardens and the surrounding countryside Monet found nearly all the inspiration he needed to fill four decades of work.

The second garden is a secluded retreat into the world of Monet's famed waterlilies. A footbridge is covered with mauve and white wisteria, and flowering Japanese trees, bamboo and other plants reflect Monet's interest in Japan. It was here, in the ever-changing light of Giverny, that the artist eternalized his vision of the lily ponds by creating 19 mural-size panels, a series known as Decoration des Nympheas, which he presented to the state in 1922.

The paintings represent the most profound expression of Monet's vision, and are the culmination of his life's work. He continued work on these until his death.

On a bench at the edge of the pond where Monet sat for hours, I, too, sat a century later, dreaming in this tranquil world of soft pink, pale yellow and pearly white waterlilies. Here I not only beheld beautiful flowers and shimmering reflections, but, as an artist, I also saw shapes and shadows, lights and darks, cools and warms.

Dare I paint my vision of Monet's gardens? Perhaps Monet asked himself that same question.

Ginda Simpson lives in Perugia, Italy.

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