If Pablo Neruda’s muse was the sea, we can certainly say that Claude Monet’s muse was his beloved 5 acre garden, what he called his “most beautiful masterpiece.” About an hour and a half out of Paris this masterpiece was once a a poor little orchard outside a farmhouse. “Scarcely anything meant more to him then his garden,” wrote Gerald Van Der Kemp, Honorary Chief Curator of Musee National de Versailles, “he endlessly returned to the same subject, under different conditions, in his various series.”
Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.
With frogs leaping from lily pad to lily pad and birds chirping as they soar through the gardens, it becomes clear why Monet left the outskirts of Paris at 53 to take on the village of Giverny. With sleeves rolled up it wasn’t long before he had sun-kissed skin and, as the art critic Octave Mirbeau described, “arms black with compost.” He dug, planted, weeded, watered, and little by little his flower garden blossomed into what is now one of the most famous gardens in the world.
“Not withstanding his sixty years, Claude Monet is robust and hearty as an oak. His face has been weathered by wind and sun; his dark hair is flecked with white; his shirt collar is open; and his clear steel-gray eyes are sharp and penetrating – they are the kind of eyes that seem to look into the very depth of things…He has the exquisite and affable manners of a gentleman farmer.”
– Louis Vauxelles, art critic
His sanctuary, not far from the banks of the Seine River, has a certain kind of magic that many tried to capture. With an underground passage to get to the water garden, Monet made sure his garden was unconstrained and wild, filled with interesting paths, diverse flowers, and of course, the famous Japanese bridge built by a local craftsman. He took his gardening seriously and left behind letters when he went away so that everything was taken care of in the exact manner he wanted it to be.
In a letter before he left for his travels during February (an unusual month for him to travel in), he wrote:
“Sow approximately 300 pots of poppies, 60 its of sweet peas, approximately 60 pots of white argemone (prickly poppy) and 30 yellow. Start blue sage and blue waterlily in a pot (greenhouse). Plant dahlias and water iris. From the 15th to the 25th start the dahlias growth. Take cuttings from the shoots before my return; think about the lily bulbs. If the peonies arrive, plant them immediately, weather permitting, taking care to protect the young shoots from cold and the sun. Do the pruning – don’t leave the roses too long except for the older, thorny varieties…”
As a master Impressionist painter, he painted his interpretation of what he saw. He painted with an added filter of feeling, which was an unconventional way to paint at the time. He wrote, “I paint what I see, I paint what I remember, and I paint what I feel.”We have Monet to thank for such beauty and every one of us is lucky to get a taste of his garden in a museum or gallery if unable to make it to his lovely village. I, oh yes, I was lucky enough to go this September and it was a dream come true, my all time favorite memory I have to hold very, very close forever.