Monet flowered in Giverny’s gardens 

Monet, who lived and painted in the serene Normandy village of Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926, carefully composed the gardens that inspired some of his greatest paintings.

Claude Monet once said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”

You understand what the master meant when you stand in his spectacular gardens at Giverny, awash in the colors that lit up his canvases. In October, masses of yellow sunflowers and rudbeckias bloomed in harmony with blood-red dahlias, spires of purple delphinium and white digitalis, climbing pink roses, a sweep of orange nasturtium. Butterflies flitted among the flowers. Starlings sang in the apple trees.

Monet, who lived and painted in the serene Normandy village of Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926, carefully composed the gardens that inspired some of his greatest paintings. Below the sloping flower garden, on the other side of the road that runs through the estate, you find the fabled water garden that Monet painted at various hours of the day, in every season and type of weather. In 1895, he began the magnificent “Water Lilies” series that occupied much of the last 30 years of his life.

Today, Monet’s house and gardens, restored and open to the public, look much as they did in his time. The poplars and weeping willows sway in the autumn breeze, their reflections rippling on the surface of the sun-glinting pond. Red and yellow leaves sail through the air, alight on the water and float past the delicate green discs of Monsieur Monet’s lilies. You can picture the great man with the flowing white beard sitting here at his easel, absorbed in the moment.

“Monet was a born painter, that’s for sure. But he was also a born gardener,” said the French writer Claire Joyce, the author of “Claude Monet: Life at Giverny.”

She was standing on the green, wisteria-draped Japanese footbridge that the master painted many times in many ways.

“Nothing was planted by chance,” Joyce said. “When he was choosing plants in a nursery, he knew exactly where he was going to plant it — what color, what volume. He was anticipating how large, how high, how dense. He had a vision in his mind. He had principles governing his painting and the same for the space in his garden. He was working with harmonies.”

Joyce’s late husband, painter Jean-Marie Toulgouat, was the great-grandson of Monet’s second wife, Alice. After the death of the artist’s first wife, Camille, in 1879, Alice raised Monet’s two young sons in addition to her six children. They were living in poverty in the Norman village of Vétheuil on the Seine, where Monet struggled to keep painting. (One of the works he created there, the sun-drenched “The Seine at Vetheuil” is in the de Young exhibition.)

Always attracted to the lush Seine valley, Monet moved the family to Giverny, about 50 miles northeast of Paris, in 1883, renting a simple house with a large garden. By 1890, after the painter’s work had caught on in France and America, he became rich enough to buy the place. The estate was expanded. Monet bought the property behind his and created his Japanese-inspired lily pond there. The huge Atelier aux Nymphéas studio was built in 1916 to accommodate the sweeping water lily “decorations” that Monet gave to the French state for display at l’Orangerie in Paris (the studio is now a gift shop).

In the early years, Monet and his children did much of the gardening. Later, he employed seven gardeners, one of whom was solely responsibly for the lily pond.

“Sometimes he was just sitting and looking at the pond, how the sun was splashing on the surface,” said Joyce, whose husband played a pivotal role in recreating Monet’s garden after the estate had fallen into disrepair following the death of the painter’s son Michel in 1960. “Nature was essential to him. But he also needed the intellectual life of Paris. He took the little train that ran through the property to Vernot and transferred to the train to Paris. Sometimes he went once a week.”

Monet’s green-shuttered pink house, covered in red Virginia creeper, was once filled with his paintings and those of his famous friends. They were sent to the Musée Marmottan in Paris not long after the estate had been bequeathed to France’s Académie des Beaux-Arts. But the beautiful Japanese woodblock prints that Monet collected still hang on the walls. The 18th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e or “Floating World” prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro — whose asymmetry and sense of space inspired Monet and the other Impressionists — appear throughout the home.

Walking through the house, you get a sense of 19th-century French country life. The chrome-yellow dining room, with its yellow rattan chairs and pale-and-dark blue checkered floor, leads into the light-filled kitchen gleaming with copper pots and blue Portuguese tile. Gazing out from the upstairs balcony, you see the garden in all its glory, just as Monet did. It’s a magic feeling.

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