Water lilies bloomed pink and white on the serene pond as a breeze ruffled the graceful branches of the weeping willows on the mossy banks. Admiring the view from a green Japanese-style footbridge under a canopy of wisteria, I felt like I was standing in a Claude Monet painting, and in fact I was. These gardens at Monet’s estate in the tiny French village of Giverny were the setting for his famous water lily series and many other of his Impressionist masterpieces.
Monet’s two-story pink house with green shutters, where he lived for 43 years, and gardens are only an hour from Paris by car or train, an easy day trip. More than 500,000 people visit the gardens each year.
I like to go in spring when the yellow irises, tulips and daffodils are popping up, and in autumn when the garden is bursting with the ebullient blossoms of peonies, roses, dahlias and gladiolas. But the gardens, open from April 1 to Nov. 1, are as beautiful as a Monet painting any day.
The artist, a founder of French Impressionism and an accomplished botanist, rented the small estate in 1883 and bought it in 1890. His garden was not typically French — no manicured, clipped hedges and marching rows of orderly flowers surrounding the chateau, but a profusion of brilliant blooms spilling with wild abandon onto winding paths that he tried to put on canvas. Vines such as clematis, wisteria and roses soften all hard lines, entwining railings and climbing walls and trellises.
His garden grew, and soon there was a pond fed by the Epte River, a tributary of the Seine River, and an arched bridge, which art lovers will recognize immediately. It was the subject of more than 40 of Monet’s paintings. Visitors snap photos in every direction making quick work of the gardens that Monet spent his life trying to capture.
“You drive yourself to distraction in the attempt to render it in painting,” he once lamented.
Sunflowers, their yellow faces following the course of the sun during the day, tower over purple irises, pink orchids, red poppies, yellow chrysanthemums, impatiens, begonias, daisies and, in the background, apple and cherry trees.
Monet called his garden “my most beautiful masterpiece.”
The estate was damaged during World War II, and neglected for years before it was given to the Academie des Beaux Arts in 1966. Renovation wasn’t started until 1977, when the organization received an infusion of money, much of it from benefactors in the United States. Mr. and Mrs. Laurance Rockefeller financed a gift shop and restaurant, and Walter Annenberg built a tunnel connecting the water garden on the other side of a road with the flower garden and house.
Gerald Van der Kemp, former chief curator of the Chateau de Versailles, oversaw the extensive restoration. The house was renovated and painted the colors Monet had chosen, and his furniture and treasured Japanese prints were restored. Monet’s House and Garden was opened to the public in 1980.
Visitors today will see a setting very much the way it was during Monet’s life, including the daffodil-yellow dining room, and the bedrooms of Monet and his wife, Alice, and the children, all with original furniture.
A dozen gardeners transplant 200,000 plants from the greenhouses to the gardens each year. Meticulous study of the artist’s paintings ensure the gardens are planted as Monet did.
Monet’s House and Gardens
Rue Claude Monet, Giverny, France 27620
Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: 8 euros; children 7 and older 6.50 euros
Guided tours: 90 euros for 1 to 3 people; 25 euros per person for 4 to 9 people. Tours are by reservation only. Reserve a tour online at www.giverny.org or by fax, 011-33 232 51 91 32.
Tour companies in Paris offer half-day bus tours.
Directions: Giverny is about 50 miles west of Paris, most of the drive on Highway A13, then follow signs. By train, take the main line from Paris’ Saint-Lazare station to the small town of Vernon, about 4 miles from Giverny, then take a taxi (about 15 euros) or a TVS bus shuttle (4 euros).