The splendour of Monet’s home and gardens was out of reach during the coronavirus pandemic — along with symphonies that no one could listen to or theatre performances that no one could watch. Now the gardens in Giverny, along with French cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums, have opened the doors to visitors craving for social life.
Of course, the number of visitors is now limited — up to 200 people per hour, which is much less than usual (in 2019, before the pandemic, 717 thousand people visited Monet’s house and gardens in seven months). But this is a good start after months of hardship and restrictions. For now, we just have to look at the magnificent photographs of the gardens. At the same time, there is an opportunity to learn interesting facts about Giverny and its most famous inhabitant.
Nine facts about Giverny
Fact Two. Arranging the estate called Clos Norman to his liking, Monet removed the boxwood and after much debate with Alice he cut down the spruce. He decorated the central path with nasturtiums and climbing roses, and instead of conifers he planted apple trees, cherries and apricots. Tulips, irises, daffodils, rhododendrons, delphiniums, phloxes, chrysanthemums, poppies, peonies and other flowers appeared on the lawns around the house. The artist did not like flower beds, so the plants covered the emerald lawns with fancy mosaics.
Fact Three. Over time, Claude Monet became famous and wealthy. He bought the house and decided to expand the garden. The artist obtained permission from the Giverny authorities to purchase an adjacent swampy area for a pond, and also to divert a canal for it from a local stream. All this was accompanied by high-profile scandals with the municipality and local residents, but the stubborn painter eventually won.
It is also said that the gardener on the boat wiped the lilies from the soot that came from the local railway line. Or that Monet paid to pave the nearby road when he noticed dust on his flowers. But these legends are unconfirmed.
The lawns are separated by many small paths. And the vegetation in some places was so high that the walkers could immerse themselves in the world of flora, barely making out the sky overhead.
Fact Five. When Monet began to go blind, he reproduced his gardens almost from memory. Cataracts in both eyes greatly affected his work. One art critic noted that later paintings "bordered on abstraction, colours flowed into each other and there were no rational forms and perspectives". The artist had to sign the paint tubes to avoid confusing colours.
Fact Six. After the artist’s death, the entire Clos Norman estate passed to his youngest son Michel. However, he did not live in Giverny, and his half-sister Blanche Hoschedé Monet became the caretaker of the house and gardens. She was a student of her stepfather and the widow of his eldest son Jean. Most likely, it was Blanche who helped the artist in the last stages of the creation of the Grand Decor, a panoramic frieze with nymphs and wisterias, which is now in the Orangerie Museum. It is difficult to imagine that the elderly and poorly seeing Claude Monet could independently make canvases of such a scale.
In 1976, Gerald van der Kemp was invited for this. He oversaw the restoration of the palace of Louis XIV at Versailles, and during World War II hid the Mona Lisa from the Nazis in his own bedroom.
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Claude Monet, Water-Lily Garden with Weeping Willow (1919). Marmottan Monet Museum, Paris
Fact Eight. Little was known about Monet’s garden at that time, and none of the plants he had planted survived. The restorers spoke with those who remembered the original estate, looked for rare photographs, studied the records of nurseries that supplied plants to the artist, and read his letters. But most of all they looked at the pictures.
It took four years to bring the garden back to life. It was expected that in the opening year, about seven thousand people would visit the estate. However, the reality ten times exceeded expectations: more than 70 thousand visitors wanted to see the living creation of Monet and his followers.