Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gardens in Art: Monet and the water garden at Giverny

The Japanese Footbridge 1899
Claude Monet
Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly, in memory of her son John W. Mudd, and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1992.9.1
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Of all the images associated with Monet, the water lilies and the Japanese bridge over the pool in the water garden at Giverny are perhaps the most well known. For more than 25 years, he painted them again and again. As a result there are many versions in museums and art galleries around the world.
In 1899–1900 Monet painted a series of at least seventeen views of the footbridge over the pond in his garden at Giverny. Thirteen were included in an exhibition of his work at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1900. The arched bridge was probably modeled on a bridge depicted in one of the many Japanese prints that Monet collected.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
I've found a few of them in major museum collections - plus some water lilies too:
The sky has already disappeared from this painting; the lush foliage rises all the way to the horizon and space is flattened by the decorative arch of the bridge. Monet gave equal emphasis to the physical qualitites of his painting materials and to the landscape motif he depicted....In later lilypond paintings, even more of the setting will evaporate, and the water’s surface alone will occupy the entire canvas. Floating lily pads and mirrored reflections assume equal stature, blurring distinctions between solid objects and transitory effects of light. Monet had always been interested in reflections, seeing their fragmented forms as the natural equivalence for his own broken brushwork.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The development of the garden at Giverny

In 1890 Monet was able to buy the house and garden at Giverny outright and he set about radical change. In the 1880s and early 1890s he dug and planted his gardens. He changed the trees in the orchard area - and planted flowering cherries, he bought the house and garden next door to enable an area to be set aside for vegetables. By the end of 1892 he had a team of seven gardeners and in 1893 he bought a parcel of land across the road in which to make a water garden of an additional 2 acres (or 8,000 square metres).

He also diverted the river to avoid the water in the pool becoming stagnant, tarmaced the road dividing the two gardens to ensure the dust from the track did not settle on the water and spoil the reflections and built the Japanese Bridge in 1895. The Japanese bridge follows exactly the line of the Grand Allee and the main door of his house. So in the morning he could walk in a straight line out of front door of the house, down the grand allee, open the garden door, cross the road and enter the water garden and stand on the bridge looking out over the pond and the waterlilies.

Monet deferred major and systematic painting of either garden until the late 1890s. Initial attempts to paint the bridge in 1895 were not harmonious, every element is distinct and the works lack a unity. So he continued to sit and watch his pond and to absorb its characteristics. Maybe he subscribed to the notion of deferred gratification. Maybe he knew what he was planning in his mind's eye and was waiting until the garden had reached that stage of its development before he started to paint. Whatever the reason, one can only marvel at Monet's ability to wait until he had absorbed enough about the garden before he started to paint it within the context of a series.
"You don't understand a landscape in a day.....It took me a long to understand my water lilies....I grew them without thinking of painting them....And then, all of a sudden, I had a revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette"
Claude Monet - various quotations
In the meantime he painted his series of 15 canvases concerning morning on the Seine. I'm wondering whether these formed a way of practising to paint his garden as of all the series paintings these are the ones most similar to the water garden.

The Debra Ancoff book also has a lovely story about how the essayist Maurice Guillemot visited Monet in August 1897. It recounts how he sat with Monet in the morning while Monet painted the Seine at its confluence with the Epte - working on 14 canvases at the same time, then after lunch he sat with Monet in the water garden and viewed the pond and the water lilies, before finally being shown the studies Monet had been doing of the pond.
Closely observed, each canvas featured nothing more than a span of water and a few blossoms, brightly painted against the muted tones of the lily pads and the surface of the pond. Some views included reflections of the trees, recalling the subtle motif that graced the series he was painting of the Seine in the delicate light of the morning.
Guillemot quoted by Debra Ancoff, Monet's Garden in Art
For those who'd like to know more about the series of paintings about the Japanese bridge, the various paintings are very well described and analysed in both the Debra Ancoff book and the one by Clare Willsdon. This is Debra Ancoff commenting on the paintings of the bridge completed in 1900.
The new paintings presented changes in form, colour and point of view. Monet's brush stroke - crisp in the 1899 paintings - loosened, emphasizing calligraphic description over sparkling definition. He chose more vivid exhuberant hues, introducing reds and violets where only the most delicate pinks had rpevailed. He focused his attention on the left bank, moving only slightly from canvas to canvas and he set the bridge as a stable element, arcing just above the centre of the canvas and spanning the right side of the composition. More lush than before the heavily laden branches of the trees and the massed flowers and grasses on the bank suggest the inherant vitality of the the natural world.
Debra P Ancoff, Monet's Garden in Art
The critics found it difficult to understand Monet's new paintings. Some understood however that "We will understand [them] one day better than we do now"

Water Lilies 1906
Inscribed at lower right: Claude Monet 1906
Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 36 1/2 in. (87.6 x 92.7 cm)
Art Insitute of Chicago

In total he painted something like 250 paintings of water lilies. These are distributed around very many museums and art galleries and private collections across the world.

His initial attempts focused on the effects of the blossoms bursting out of the muted lily pads. Later paintings of water lilies feature blossoms as only one element of an overall view, they intermingle with the reflections of both clouds and trees and are often represented by dabs of pure pigment on a pond which is painted with a smooth and even brush stroke - to represent the still or gentle movement of the pond's surface.
Monet is painting a series of views [just] reflection in water, you see nothing but the reflection!
Mary Cassatt - in a letter to a friend
Overall, the paintings of water lilies vary in size - he changed the sizes and shapes of the canvases on which he worked - and treatment. Latterly, the paintings begin to reflect the way in which his painting changed as be began to battle with the development of cataracts and the loss of important members of his family.

Tomorrow I'm going to complete this series of posts about Monet's paintings of gardens by focusing on his final project - the water lily murals which are now housed in the Musee do l'Orangerie in Paris.

Note: Miki Willa in Hawaii wrote and recommended a book about Monet which is suitable for children. I checked it out on Amazon and it has a lot of very good reviews. I've added in a link to what Mike told me below.
I found a lovely book for young people about Monet, his family, and his garden at Giverney. It is written like a fiction book, but is is full of factual information, photos, and paintings. It is called Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. It is publised by R&S books. It was originally published in Sweden in 1985. I hope you get a chance to look at this delightful book and pass it on to others who might enjoy it.
Links: Books (see Claude Monet - Resources for Art Lovers for further details):
  • Monet Christopher Heinrich (Taschen).
  • Claude Monet - Life At Giverny Claire Joyes (Thames and Hudson)
  • Monet's Garden in Art Debra P Mancoff (Frances Lincoln)
  • In the gardens of Impressionism Clare A.P.Willsdon - especially Chapter 8 'Monet in the south and at Giverny'
  • Artists' Gardens Bill Laws - especially the chapter on Giverny (pages 134-143)
  • Impressionist Gardens Judith Bumpus

6 comments:

shirley said...

Katherine,
I have the Linnea book that ( purchased for my children at Giverny. Let me know if you want me to scan some pages for your reading.
Shirley

Elijah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracy said...

Katherine thanks for reminding me of how many paintings Monet did of water lilies. I feel better now concerning my current obsession with two particular scenes:)

Katherine said...

Elijah - I'm doing the series paintings as a later project.

Tracy - I know I've got a tremendous amount out of looking at very many paintings of the same subjects and same views - not least how much more interesting it is to look at something which is not photorealistic.

If you've got a motif that you find stimulating and works for you then keep painting!

Elijah said...

removed my comment because i found a couple of spelling mistakes in it :(
no more commenting in late hours...

Katherine said...

Now I didn't know you could do that! It was OK Elijah - we all have fingers which don't behave from time to time. Your comment was fine.

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