A painted garden

A painted garden

In giverny

A painted garden

During the later part of the 19th century, Claude Oscar Monet, the impressionist painter who revolutionised the art scenario with the concept of ‘plein air landscape painting’, more popularly known as impressionism, made Giverny, France, his home.

Monet’s ambition of documenting the French countryside led him to rent and later purchase an orchard in Normandy, in the town of Giverny. Here, Monet began a vast landscaping project, which included the famous lily pond that would become the subject of his best-known works. Two studios flank the house, and the studio on the right, with immense skylight, was where Monet created his celebrated water lilies.

Seasonal changes

This garden rises in spring with tulips, iris and crocuses, and by June, the roses and clematis play with the poppies. And by August, the magnificent dahlias mingle with the velvety asters. Year-long, the garden showcases different seasonal blooms, all carefully cultivated and interspersed with poplars, bamboo and willow.

The garden peaks in early summer, with its array of incredibly beautiful flowers and water lilies, with autumn trailing close behind with its treat of giant blossoms. Every season offers its colourful, bright, myriad blooms.

Monet has mixed the simplest of flowers with the rarest of varieties, coordinating their colours and heights, and maintaining a delicate hue of blues, whites and mauves. In fact, when Monet and his family settled in Giverny, the land was just an orchard enclosed by a high wall. This was gradually reworked into a garden full of colour and perspective.

Ten years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet bought the neighbouring land, which was crossed by a small brook, a diversion of River Epte (River Epte is a tributary of River Seine). Here he had his first pond dug. And later, this pond was enlarged to the present-day size. This pond, with its famous Japanese footbridge, hanging wisterias, clump of bamboo and floating water lilies, has been an inspiration for Monet for a good 20-plus years. It is said that Monet himself planted the hanging wisterias around the bridge.

Monet created his painting twice, once while creating the garden and the next, while painting the garden. He, in fact, literally shaped nature for his paintbrush. Both his garden and his paintings show his unique visual sensitivity. For Monet, the garden was a living still-life, liberating him to experiment with colour and technique.

Another oft-quoted story is that of Monet having engaged a gardener just to meticulously clean the soot from the water lilies, as he wanted his lilies to look pristine always. The gardener would, first thing in the morning, take a boat and go round cleaning all the leaves and flowers in the pond. In all, eight gardeners cared and nurtured the place, with Monet spending a good part of the day working with them.

The garden was designed for a specific way of seeing and a specific way of painting. And was Monet’s second artistic medium. Here, a number of impressionist greats like Rodin, Cezanne, Mirabeau, Clémenceau and Monet met up.

The place was full of visitors, especially little ones on their school trips, with their teachers guiding them on appreciating the variety of plants and trees. Most of the children were carrying picture booklets with a catalogue of all the plants found in Monet’s garden, and the children were excitedly comparing notes on the location of the various plants and their quick identification. There were other visitors, both old and young, painting the gorgeous garden on their canvas, and the ubiquitous photographer trying to match Monet’s canvas.

Normandy was in the thick of action during WWII, and Giverny was badly damaged, with both Monet’s garden and house taking a big hit. In 1977, renovation work was taken up and it took close to 10 years to restore the place close to its original. Even the pond had to be re-dug, after which the authorities meticulously replanted the garden to closely mirror the original.

Giverny lies some 75 km northwest of Paris, a quaint little town with its main thoroughfare, Rue du Claude Monet, lined with pleasant villas and flowering pathways, a shop or two, a church and the grand garden. It is just an hour’s drive from Paris and can be easily reached by train.

The train station is Vernon-Giverny, where plenty of taxis, shuttle buses and bicycles are found around the time of the train arrival. Walking the 7 km to Giverny is an option but would take the better part of an hour. A number of tour operators offer half-day trips from Paris and full-day trips covering both Giverny and Versailles.

For the visitors

People are friendly and courteous and more than happy to help a tourist. The language can sometimes be a challenge. Being a very popular tourist spot, both Vernon and Giverny have a number of hotels and bed-and-breakfast places, but advance booking is a must. Both the museum and garden have minimum entry formalities, which can be further reduced by online purchase of the entry ticket.

For the hungry visitor, there are a few cafes offering amazing cuisines and wines where even a vegetarian like me can be stuffed to the core. A few souvenir shops dot the horizon and offer exclusive, delicate ware.

Claude Monet lived in Giverny for 43 years, painting the town and its surroundings, especially his garden, and the magic still continues with each year, close to half a million visitors visiting the place. Visitors also enjoy the beautiful waterscapes around the Seine valley, as also a ride in a Citroen Traction, ambling through the countryside and soaking in the ethereal atmosphere.

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