Today is Boris’ 60th Birthday. We have chosen to do an half day excursion outside of Paris to the edge of Normandy to visit Claude Monet’s farmhouse and gardens at Giverny. Giverny is just under 50 miles west of Paris. There are countless tours going to the gardens. We have chosen to do a small group tour. The van is picking us up at 8:15 am on this Sunday morning, just after our full breakfast at the hotel. Boris and I were the first two in the van. There is a total of 6 guests plus the driver on the tour. They told us we would be back by noon.
It took quite a while to pick everyone up across the city and finally make our way out of town. In route to the farmhouse, our guide told us about Claude Monet and the impressionist movement. The artist was christened Oscar-Claude Monet, but was forever known to his family as Oscar. Although born in Paris, at age 5 Oscar moved with his family to Le Havre, Normandy. Among his influencers was Eugene Boudin who he met on the beaches of Normandy. Boudin taught Oscar to use oil paints and the techniques for painting outside.
Monet eventually won agreement and financial support from his father to train as an artist in Paris, but he felt confined by the formal schooling. He eventually dropped out and joined a less structured group of artists who were more experimental in their techniques. When his father learned of this, he cut off Oscar’s financial support. The movement later became known as impressionism after the title of one of Monet’s paintings.
These renegade artists organized their own exhibitions. At one such, Monet showed his painting Impression, Sunrise, painted in 1972, depicting “a Le Havre port landscape. From the painting’s title the art critic Louis Leroy…coined the term “Impressionism”. It was intended as disparagement but the Impressionists appropriated the term for themselves.”
Claude (as he was now known in Paris) married his model Camille and she and their eldest child, a son named Jean, were featured in several of Monet’s paintings. Camille died in 1879 of cancer after giving Monet two sons, Jean and Michel. Monet moved his family to live in a village with one of the patrons of the Impressionists, Ernest Hoschede, a wealthy department store owner. When Hoschede went bankrupt and moved to Belgium, Monet and his sons remained with Hoschede’s wife Alice and the six Hoschede children.
This usual family situation continued for years, the group moving together many times. In 1883, Monet spotted Giverny from a train and initially rented the property and moved the family there. Monet later purchased and added additional buildings and land as he prospered with the sale of his paintings. He planted the flower garden and later added the water meadow which he redesigned as a Japanese-style water garden. Monet then painted almost exclusively the things found on his own property in various seasons of the year.
Upon the death of Ernest Hoschedé, Monet married Alice. Alice passed away in 1911 and his son Jean in 1914. It was during this time that Claude Monet developed cataracts and his art came across as more red in tint. He eventually had two surgeries to correct the cataracts. Monet was cared for by his step-daughter/daughter-in-law Blanche. Blanche was Alice’s oldest child and she also married Jean Monet. I told you it was an unusual family situation, although maybe not as strange then as it appears now.
In December of 1926, at age 86, Oscar Claude Monet died of lung cancer. He is buried in the church cemetery at Giverny. Today the farmhouse and gardens at Giverny are a major attraction. We hoped early on a Sunday morning would mean lighter crowds.
After parking, our guide maneuvered us down an alleyway to the less-crowded group entrance. Since the early crowds were viewing the farmhouse and flower garden, we went through the tunnel under the roadway (formerly the rail line from which Monet had spotted the property) and visited the Japanese-inspired water garden. Our guide gave us directions on what to see and set a specific time to meet us at the exit. I was beginning to get concerned about making our 12:30 lunch reservations, but I didn’t want it to spoil our day.
There is a map of the garden, but really all you need to do is roam around and enjoy. The waterlilies were not in season, but the wisteria over the Japanese bridge was. There are people who specifically choose to come at this time of year to see the wisteria. There is no chance to take a picture alone on the bridge.
This is a photographer’s heaven and I was ready to kill Boris for recommending I not bring my good camera on this trip. I did the best I could with my iPhone. It also gives me an excuse to return.
Boris didn’t last as long as I did in the water garden and headed back to locate the flower garden and farmhouse. I was in my element. I could have just sat and looked the whole day; there was such beauty.
Eventually I realized that there would be limited time for the other garden and the farmhouse if I didn’t begin to head that way. As I was going back through the tunnel I noted how large the crowd had grown and was glad I had at least gotten some distance shots without lots of people in the background.
I wandered around the flower gardens at the farmhouse with the manicured rows and pebble walkways. Beautiful, but somehow I got the sense that the best of my visit was behind me. Boris caught up with me and pointed out the line at the farmhouse so we decided we better get in the queue for that visit before we ran out of time.
There was a long time in the hot sun and I was really glad that Boris and I had purchased hats yesterday. The line did continue to move and we kept a steady pace through the house. It was interesting to see the photographs of Monet in the same rooms we were visiting.
My favorite room looked like an addition. You walked down and there was comfy furniture and literally every inch of the wall was covered in paintings. This was another place I could have just sat in for hours, just looking around and studying the paintings. Unfortunately the line needed to keep moving.
After the farmhouse, we made a quick tour through the gift shop and then I spent our remaining time in the flower garden.
When we left the touring area, the line to get into the farmhouse and gardens was incredibly long. I am pretty sure we are not going to make our lunch reservations at Bofinger back in Paris. The driver kept a steady pace and dropped off one couple first, but then we had to remind him that we were told we would be back at noon, that we had reservations at 12:30, and that we had confirmed the restaurant drop off when we made the arrangements for the tour. He got moving and we were there by 12:45. Now it is time for Boris timeless restaurant meal 3 of 5 and the birthday lunch…