Like The Palace of Versailles, some places have to be visited but are sorely ruined by the crowds encountered there. That is, some houses and gardens have achieved infamy, so even for someone who would never visit such a place, they are attracted there nevertheless. In the UK, I would say that Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court and Chatsworth House have achieved that status. In France, I’m about to take you on a trip of the second most famous place to visit by those who would never visit a house or a garden (after The Palace of Versailles): the gardens created by Claude Monet at Giverny.
So, I know that even if I say don’t bother (you know you’ll be disappointed as you’ve already seen what to expect), you will still visit in person, just as I did.
In anticipation of the crowds, we took the earliest train we could humanly bare to board from the Saint-Lazare station at Paris to Vernon (approximately 1 hour) and then opted for the direct tourist coach to the garden. So we had arrived by 10.30am and were finished by midday.
In hindsight, I’d suggest a trip towards the end of the day as the light will be better.
What did surprise me at Giverny was Monet’s simple but colourful house
The gardens are of two halves. The gardens in front of the house slope down to the road and are in a classical cottage style, billowing and pretty.
When Monet had the idea of a creating a water garden where he could paint, he bought fields across the road. Today the visitors traverse the road with a specially built tunnel but in Monet’s day he would nip out of his gate and over the railway line to his lilies.
When he sought to dig his ponds where his lilies would sit, Monet met opposition from the locals, who thought that the lilies would pollute the watercourse!
However, evidentially he got his way and paint his lilies he did.
Coincidentally, as I write (March 2016), there is an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London charting the painting of the modern garden. A couple of weeks ago I sat in on an art history talk about the exhibition, the focus of which was the gardens of Monet and his obsession with paiting Giverny. In fact, towards the end of his life Monet painted nearly nothing but the waterlilies at Giverny, often composing the same picture over and over again. By that point Monet was rich and whatever he painted would have sold. It is this that becomes a focus of the exhibition, although the history of depicting gardens is in itself interesting, from Egyptian murals to Japanese cherry blossoms, natura morta captured by the Dutch (when horticulture in itself finally because the subject of a picture), the bird’s eye view of the 17th and 18th century landscape and house, to the abstract composition and sunflower obsession of Van Gogh.
The exhibition shows the progression of Monet as an artist of the garden. The two pictures below are both by Monet, one from the start of his career, the other the end, and if you didn’t know you might second guess whether they were by the same person.
I’m not sure I’ll go to the exhibition as even with my Art Fund card it is £15, but this subject continues to fascinate me as I am currently painting my own oil of a garden. Maybe I’ll give my NUS card a go though and see if I can get entry for £10.
When visited: September 2015
Gardens * out of 5: ***