I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Monet’s paintings. Yes, they’re pretty—that much is undeniable. He certainly cornered the market on water lilies and haystacks. But I suppose I’ve developed a sense of indifference toward his work because it’s so ubiquitous. He’s one of the first artists I learned about (in a cursory 5th grade unit on art history) and whose work I learned to recognize with ease. But then suddenly it was everywhere: mouse pads, t-shirts, calendars, and the walls of countless dorm rooms I would encounter during my high school and college years. Before I knew it, I was Monet-ed out.
But once I moved to Paris, I kept hearing about Giverny, the quaint village where Monet famously made his home from 1883 until his death in 1926. It’s here that he cultivated the celebrated garden that many of his most famous works depict. Suddenly, unexpectedly, my long dormant interest in Monet was revitalized.
I wanted to visit the scene of the crime, as it were, because I am forever enthralled by the mystery of artistic “inspiration”—Where does it come from? When does it strike? How does an artist translate inspiration into art without making a mess of things along the way? I’m automatically impressed by anyone who actually manages to work with some semblance of discipline and produce a lasting body of work—be it paintings, poems, or a whole lot of knitting.
So I was curious to visit the site that inspired Monet’s masterpieces (and the many key chains and cocktail napkins that those masterpieces inspired). Giverny is an easy day-trip from Paris; it took us a little over an hour by car, and it’s only 45 minutes by train. Luckily for me, the garden had just re-opened for the year (you can only visit between April 1 – November 1) and tulip season was in full swing when we arrived.
Every corner of the Clos normand (the rectangular section of the garden that abuts Monet’s house) was bursting with blooms, clustered by color after brilliant color. We made our way down the crunchy stone pathways and over to the pond, where lily pads lay in wait (the water lilies don’t bloom until July) and languorous weeping willows bent over the water. Standing on a replica version of Monet’s Japanese bridge, it was easy to see why he chose this serene spot to work and live.
After wandering the gardens, we headed into Monet’s house, where we drifted through the artist’s sunken studio, his bedroom, his wife’s bedroom, a bright blue sitting room, the yellow dining room and kitchen. It was pretty much what I expected, with a few surprises in the mix: throughout the house, Monet’s extensive collection of Japanese wood-cut prints (he amassed 231 of them) were on display.
All in all, it was a quick visit, and a wonderful excuse to flee Paris, if only for an afternoon. If you’re a fan of Monet, Giverny is a must-see. And if you’re not, it’s still a nice place to wake up your senses and remember that if you build it, inspiration will come. (Note to self: get country house, plant crazy garden.)
Giverny gardens. Open daily from 9:30am-6pm (last entrance at 5:30pm) from April 1 – November 1. Private tours by appointment.
- The Musée Rodin is a wonderful spot (right in the 7th arrondissement) to take in mythical artwork in a gorgeous garden setting
- For more Monet in Paris, check out the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée Marmottan-Monet
- Here’s a list of a few more great day trips from Paris