Giverny- on the bucket list.


I met an 82 year old woman yesterday who has travelled to France from Australia to visit Giverny, the home of Claude Monet.

“I studied fine art as a student” she explained to me, ” and that’s when I fell in love with Monet’s paintings.” When she graduated, she married and settled in England and her greatest wish was to visit Monet’s famous gardens. Her husband didn’t support her love of art, declaring. .

“Why would you travel to another country just to visit a garden?

Now at the age of 82, divorced, with difficulty walking after an accident, and despite living in Australia, this lovely lady had thrown caution to the wind and flown across the world to make her dream come true.

“I knew if I didn’t do it this year, I never would” she said, and I am happy in the knowledge that today she will have a fabulous day.

We might have arrived at 8 in the morning, but Monet got his first view of his future home at Giverny in the early afternoon. He’d left his rented house in Poissy, the creditors at his heels, declaring he would not return until he found a new house for the family to live in.

Imagine passing in front of this great house, and spying from the road an orchard in full spring blossom where the flowers are today, while the pretty nasturtium lined central allée was originally a dark and brooding yew lined pathway. Monet detested the way the trees blocked the light while Alice, his wife, felt that it was a crime to fell a tree. Persuading her to let him remove the lower branches, Monet subsequently lopped the tops much to Alice’s indignation. The denuded trunks soon became the supports for his climbing roses, until rotting away they were replaced by the metal arches we see today.

As the seasons change, so does the garden. Irises and peonies are replaced by poppies and roses, and later by phlox, cosmos and dahlias.

The abundance of flowers is overwhelming, even on rainy days one thinks the sun is shining, such is the colour and cheerfulness of the surroundings.Monet had ten gardeners once he had fully developed the gardens; today there are only 6, and an army of volunteers who classify the deadheading of the flowers “a gros boulot” , a big job! Pissarro’s wife once commented favorably on one of Monet’s irises and Monet subsequently dispatched a cutting of them to her on the next train!

At the age of 50, 7 years after moving into the house, Monet started to create the water garden. Today there is only one gardener allocated to tend to it, and much of it is done by boat. Most of his activity is tending to the water lilies which are a great delicacy for the Muskrat.He has to ensure that the lilies grow in nice circular rafts, just as Monet liked them.

After Monet’s death the garden fell into disrepair and had to be largely recreated. Alice had insisted that he write to her everyday when he was away painting. From his letters, his gardening instructions gave the restoration team a good idea of the type and position of the original flowers, and other little notebooks and seed order books held the rest of the clues.

Today the garden is a masterpiece. A living work of art, just as Monet wanted; his largest canvass.

“Gardening was something I learnt from my youth when I was unhappy, I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers” said Monet.

Not surprising then that the lovely 82 year old I met yesterday was so keen to go and visit it.

I truly hope it is everything she hoped it would be – and more!

The Impressionists, Monet and Giverny


Last weekend, just before ‘husband à l’etranger’ set off again for Nigeria, we walked into town to try to pick up a fridge magnet for one of his colleagues. Slightly bizarre, you may think, but actually, his colleague bought a fridge magnet for every place he’d visited with his wife when on motorbike – only in Rouen he’d failed to get hold of one. I knew that the Musée de Beaux Arts had some really lovely ones of Impressionist views of Rouen and so it seemed a good opportunity for a sunday morning walk.

The only problem was that this particular sunday, Rouen seemed to be a little more difficult to get around than usual. There was security fencing on all the vital corners that we wanted to pass by, and police presence was heavy, especially near the art gallery. Eventually, we took a seat at a café in the sunshine, and watched the activity around us. It wasn’t long before a couple of limos passed by withdarkened glass and motorbike  outriders. François Hollande, the president was in town.

This summer Rouen celebrates it’s strong link with the Impressionists with the  ‘Festival Normandie Impressioniste’, This is the second time this event has taken place, the first being in 2010. Hollande had come for the official opening of the Exhibition. Most people probably recognise the famous series of 33 paintings of Rouen cathedral by Monet, but what many don’t know is that the art collector and patron of many of the struggling impressionists, François Depeaux had at one time in his collection 600 of their works of art, including at least one of the cethedral series. A messy divorce forced him to try to offload the paintings, and in 1903 he offered them all to the Musée de Beaux Arts at Rouen. The board of governors at the musée refused them all thanks to their ‘avant guard’ status, and by the time they finally changed their mind in 1909, the collection had dwindled to a mere 60. Nevertheless the Musée has a superb Impressionist wing, and to celebrate the Impressionist Festival, is exhibiting another 100 from private collections from around the world. The theme this year is Eblouissant Reflets (dazzling refelctions) celebrating the Impressionists love of painting the movement and reflective quality of the water – particularly on the Seine and the Normandy coast. The exhibition runs from now until 29th September, along with several other large exhibitions in Normandy, and the wonderful Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show on the cathedral facade after dusk.

Whilst we were sitting in the café, we picked up the local paper and were amused to see that ‘les effectifs des guides conferenciers ont été augmentés. Ils passent de 42 à 47 pour prendre en charge le flot de touristes.’ (The numbers of Conference Guides have been augmented from 42 to 47 to take charge of the flow of tourists) I, and my new colleagues had made it into the news! Rouen by all accounts was set to be busy this summer!

In the week preceeding ‘husband à l’etranger’s return, with a mere week left until my final exam for Guide, the arrival of a close friend from England allowed me to suggest a last bit of Impressionist revision. A visit to the home of Monet at Giverny, only 30 minutes by train from Rouen. Arrivals at the station at Vernon, the nearest station to Giverny have the choice of shuttle-bus or taxi to run the final 5 kilometers. Luckily my friend and I think alike, and although an overcast day, delighted in the idea of a bike ride from the station along a disused railway track to the home of Monet. (Bikes can be hired from the café next to the station). The sun blazed as we headed out along the Seine valley and on arrival we avoided queues for entry thanks to pre-booked online tickets.

chemin parking 011

The unseasonably long winter had kept in check the spring flowers, but it was still pretty, and the house was lovely, mostly for its modest and familial proportions. Monet was passionate about his garden, and though I am not a great lover of crowds, I must admit that I really want to go back to see it in its summer prime.

giverny 019

chemin parking 017

Just as we left the Japanese garden, the first drops of rain began to fall, and by the time we had hopped back onto our bikes in search of our favorite of the  handful of cafés, the heavens opened, and we flopped into the seats at our table bedraggled. My friend wasted no time in ‘selling’ my guiding ‘talents’ to a neighbouring American couple!

Giverny 022

We were charmed by our hilarious waiter who offered us Psssscht (pronounced sheet)(an alternative lemonade to 7up) to quench our thirst. When we could barely contain our laughter, he looked a little concerned, and asked what he’d said.

When we explained that it sounded a little rude, he mumbled

‘merde’,

to which we replied

‘exactly’, and promptly fell about again!

We countered the continuing rain to visit the other art gallery, the Musée des Impressionists in Giverny, and visited the exhibition of  Signac, before climbing back onto our bikes, and back into warm sunshine for our return journey home.

But for now on the agenda, is my own visit to the Musée de Beaux Arts to see the visiting works of Art in the ‘Eblouissant Reflets’ exhibition, before I start presenting, amongst other things, the permanent Impressionist gallery to the summer visitors.

The Son et Lumiere at the cathedral is worth every minute of the late-ish night required, the scaffolding for the restoration of the cathedral facade being removed just in time to allow the Impressionist images to be projected onto it. Perhaps i’ll see you there?