A visit to Monet’s House and Garden in Giverny

Claude Monet’s House in Giverny

In 1890, when he was finally financially stable after years of struggle, Claude Monet purchased a house just outside the town of Vernon in Normandy, now about an hour away from Paris by train. The pink stucco house had grey shutters when he bought it, but they were soon painted a color the villagers called “Monet green.” Three years later he bought additional land to build a water garden and, much to his neighbors’ chagrin, even diverted a local river to fill his pond and support the water lilies that would flourish here.  The first lilies arrived in 1894 and Monet nurtured and added to the plants and trees that surrounded the pond and his property for the rest of his life.

Monet’s Water Lily Pond

To say that Monet was obsessed by flowers is an understatement. He employed a team of 6 gardeners and spent the extraordinary sum of 40,000 francs per year on his obsession. By the end of the 19th century, Monet focused his art almost solely on his water garden and envisioned a series of canvases that would cover the walls and envelope the viewer“giving the illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no bank.” From 1892 until his death in 1926 Monet produced nearly 300 magical canvases on the theme of the water lily pond and the surrounding gardens.

Claude Monet, The Water Lily Pond, Morning at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Monet’s masterpiece of the water lilies series is the 8 panels that cover two oval-shaped rooms at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Monet tried to capture not only the plants and trees that populated his garden and pond, but also the atmosphere that surrounded them and the shifting phantoms of light and color that danced around the vegetation. Visiting both the paintings and the garden that inspired them is a delight.  Monet’s house has no original paintings by the artist, only reproductions of works of art that at one time hung in his home, but you will not be disappointed with the spectacular living masterpiece of his garden and lily pond that continue to flourish today.

Daisies and Ferns along the edge of Monet’s Pond
Monet’s Pond with Boats and Bamboo

Monet augmented the weeping willows that surrounded his pond with bamboo, ferns, Japanese maples, weeping willows, rhododendrons, and countless varieties of flowers.

Blooming Water Lilies in Monet’s Pond

Monet planted white water lilies local to France along with important cultivars from South American and Egypt that were yellow, blue, and a white that turned pink as it aged.

Monet’s Japanese Bridge

He built a Japanese bridge (and painted it “Monet green!”) for his beautiful purple wisteria. It was not blooming when I was there last June, but the study vines are evidence of what is surely an incredible sight!

Roses in Monet’s Garden

 

Monet’s House

When visitors reluctantly leave the pond area, they wander past Monet’s glorious gardens to his home.

Monet’s Yellow Dining Room
Monet’s Japanese Prints in the Yellow Dining Room
Monet’s Dining Room Door

Once inside the house, visitors can wander about and see Monet’s bright and cheery yellow dining room. His collection of blue and white porcelain is displayed along with his Japanese prints. Sadly, the prints have lots much of their color after being displayed in the light for so long, but we can only imagine this room in Monet’s day, filled with color, good food, and lovely bottles of wine.

Monet’s Blue and White Kitchen with Copper Pans

The blue and white theme continues in the kitchen with Delft tiles. Amazingly, we also get to see the artist’s gleaming collection of copper pots.

View out to the Gardens

Once upstairs, we discovered the windows flung open to the outdoors and I loved that I could gaze down to the magnificent gardens just as Monet must have done.

Atelier des Nympheas

One disappointment is that the large studio Monet built to work on his massive water lily paintings has now been turned into a gift shop. I wonder what Monet would think of the variety and number of gift items his paintings inspired.

I imagine he would be quite amazed since he famously remarked, “My only virtue is to have painted directly in front of nature while trying to render the impressions made on me by the most fleeting effects.”

Art Collecting 101: Tips for Collecting for Your Home and Life

One of my favorite events last year was a presentation at the University Club of St. Paul on the topic of how to begin collecting art. Here are some tips that I shared with the audience.

  1. Curate your collection.
    If we define the term curate as, “selecting objects with a specific point of view,” then you are the head curator of your home. The specific point of view is YOU, so select things that make you happy and let your home reflect your interests. Don’t collect to please others, but do negotiate with your spouse or partner 😉
  1. Look, look, and look some more.
    Look at as much art as you can (preferably in person!) and start to determine what draws you in and what you find yourself thinking about later. Is there a specific style, format, or subject matter that calls to you over and over again? Train your eye and devote some time to this enterprise.
  1. Don’t forget your tool belt.
    There are many online resources as well as apps for that super computer that doubles as your phone. If nothing else, use your smart phone to create a photo album of works you like. Consult a catalogue raisonné for a list of all the works of art by a certain artist. Have a magnifying glass and a measuring tape on hand—these can be invaluable in determining originality.
  1. Know what you are buying.
    The terms “original” and “authentic” are used with abandon on the Internet and in online descriptions. Become an educated consumer and understand the differences between an original, a re-issue, a reproduction, and a fake.  Make informed decisions on which one is best for you and your budget.
  1. Get the best value.
    Tied with originality, know about the value of what you are hoping to acquire. Know when edition numbers, signatures, stamps, and provenance add to value. And if you can resist buying art on a cruise ship or hotel auction, you will do better in the end.
  1. Get the best out of your source.
    Whether you buy at an auction house, a gallery, through a private dealer, on eBay, Craig’s List, an estate sale, or out of the trunk of a car, ask lots of questions. A great start is, “What can you tell me about this piece?” Know that each of these sources has a different investment in the work of art and expect to see that reflected in the final price.
  1. Consider condition.
    Unfortunately, condition never gets better and restoration and conservation can be expensive. Ask to see the back of the painting or print, open up the frame if you can, look for damage on furniture and decorative arts, and really assess if this is the right piece for you. Sometimes, a little damage can be tolerable if you want a specific work, but try to buy the best condition you can afford.
  1. Take care of your art.
    Make sure your home is equipped to provide a safe haven for your new pieces. Use archival materials to frame, and if what you bought is light sensitive, keep it out of direct sunlight.
  1. Keep good records.
    Keep receipts together and create a binder or file to amass any information you find on your artists or your objects. You will be surprised at how quickly it is apparent that you are actually a collector. A jump drive with photos of all your art is also a great tool that can be stored away from your home in case of emergency.
  1. Start to buy!
    Have courage and take the plunge! You will make a mistake (or two!), but that’s all part of the process. Remember that you are the head curator and trust your taste. Of course, buy within your means, but be prepared to reach if you find something spectacular.
  1. Refine and evolve.
    Buying a work of art is not like getting a tattoo—you can change it if you want. Bringing in a new purchase can enliven a room or space, however it may also mean that something has to go—this is ok! We are collectors not hoarders.

Spring Asparagus

I love asparagus and I love still life paintings—put the two together and I am over the moon! I also adore the paintings of the French artist Edouard Manet (1832-83), so you can only imagine my delight when I saw his Asparagus Still Life while visiting the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany.

Edouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus (1880), oil on canvas. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.
Edouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus (1880), oil on canvas. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

 

Manet’s asparagus are not the skinny specimens that fill the grocery store shelves during the off-season, but are big and beefy and seem ready to burst from their bindings. The painting is intimate and close to life size, so it draws the viewer in to revel in the purples, greens, mauves, and whites that enliven the stalks. Manet’s prowess with color is on display here in the asparagus, the greens that provide a ground, and the white table that is the base.

Edouard Manet, Asparagus (1880), oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Edouard Manet, Asparagus (1880), oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Manet also painted a still life that pictured only one asparagus. I always visit this painting at the Musée d’Orsay when I’m in Paris and never knew that the two paintings were related. Apparently when Manet sold A Bunch of Asparagus, his client sent him 1000 francs instead of the asking price of 800 francs. Rather than return the 200 francs, Manet sent him the Orsay painting of the single stalk with the note: “There was one missing from your bunch.”

Last year I had the pleasure of being in Paris in June and was able to shop the local market for my own bunches of asparagus. Here is my Still Life with Asparagus. I couldn’t resist adding a few other treasures from the market.

Location, Location, Location: The Wedding Feast at Cana and the Mona Lisa

WeddingFeast1
Veronese, The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The Italian artist Veronese painted the spectacular Wedding Feast at Cana in 1563. This massive work—measuring over 22 feet high and 32 feet long—hangs in one of the busiest galleries of the Louvre in Paris, yet despite it’s size and magnificence, it is often missed and/or ignored. More than 6 million visitors each year turn their backs to Veronese’s masterpiece as they jostle for position and gaze through the bulletproof glass and take pictures of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

WeddingFeast2
Photo courtesy of Lisa Michaux

 

Here is my version of the Mona Lisa Selfie—you can see all the other cameras raised in the air and have to wonder at the quality of those photos! I especially love that the “Do Not Touch” signs on either side of the painting are almost as big as it is!

By contrast, here is the crowd in front of the Wedding Feast at Cana. You can even see one photographer on the right focusing on the Mona Lisa located on the opposite wall.

 

WeddingFeast3
Photo courtesy of Lisa Michaux

It is sad to think that all these people crowded in front of the Mona Lisa missed The Wedding Feast, a fabulous work that contains 130 people as well as several dogs, a parakeet, and even a playful cat. Veronese crossed the time continuum and we see Jesus, his Mother Mary, and a couple of apostles dressed in traditional biblical garb in the center of the work, while the rest of the guests at this fabulous feast are decked head to toe in contemporary 16th century Venetian fashion.