The Garden at Giverny
Though Claude Monet lived and worked in a variety of picturesque locales over the course of his long and productive life, none sustained his interest and imagination as did the town of Giverny. In 1883 Monet moved his family to this peaceful community located approximately forty-six miles from Paris. There they rented a two-acre farm and planted a vegetable garden to help sustain themselves physically as well as a flower garden to nourish their spirits.
Monet, an avid gardener, planned, planted, and weeded the gardens with help from his family. He employed the same principles for selecting and placing the plants in small groups of different color combinations as he did with the hues featured in his paintings. The gardens became a living studio from which he could observe and paint the ever-changing seasons, weather conditions, and lifecycles of nature. When the farmhouse and surrounding gardens were offered for sale in 1890. Monet immediately purchased the property and expanded the grounds by establishing a greenhouse for growing orchids and other exotic plants. Two years later he hired a head gardener and eventually added five additional caretakers.
After purchasing the Giverny property, Monet created a water lily garden by redirecting part of the Ru River in a strip of land he purchased across the street from his home. The garden was relaxed and tranquil, with wandering gravel paths that created the illusion of a larger space. Monet controlled every aspect of the garden in the same way he controlled his paintings, paying careful attention to texture, form, shape, and space. He appointed a gardener whose job it was to care specifically for the water lily pond. Each morning the gardener would row the boat out onto the pond and clean off any algae or leaf debris to help maintain its reflective quality. A collector and admirer of Japanese art, Monet added a Japanese-style footbridge as the main accent of the water garden. The bridge created an elliptical reflection on the surface of the pond, which also reflected the atmospheric conditions of clouds, wind, and sunlight. In addition, Monet specified that the water lilies be arranged in circular clusters to control the positive and negative features of the landscape. This well-ordered, serene environment was the inspiration for Monet’s series of water lily paintings.
Monet turned to the immediate surroundings of his water garden to explore the subject of aquatic landscapes at length. Though he captured many facets of the Giverny landscape over the years, including the willow trees, wisteria, and flowering plants that lined the margins of his pond, water lilies became a dominant motif in the artist’s late works. He began his paintings outside, working on large oil sketches on the banks of the pond. There he laid down the fundamental sketch, outlining the water lily pads and background colors that would be transferred and refined on the monumental canvases back in his studio.