In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 2

You may remember Part 1 when Monet came to the VAG in summer. Last month I had the delight of walking through his gardens in Giverny.

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It was a crisp and beautiful October day. As much as I loved Paris, getting outside of it to experience the French countryside was time well spent. The Artist and I arrived by train in the town of Vernon where shuttle buses are waiting to take loads of tourists to Monet’s house and gardens in the nearby and much smaller town of Giverny.

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We hopped on the first “shuttle” we saw (Le Petit Train Givernon), which was actually a rickety open air train that came with a pre-recorded tour of sites along the way from Vernon to Giverny—a nice bonus. We loved it!

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Looking back through my Europe photos, this was the day of brightest colours. I’ve been telling people since I’ve been home that Europe doesn’t have the vibrant fall hues like Vancouver has (particularly the reds), but lo and behold, we did see red!

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Monet is famous for painting outside but he also had a studio in his house, which looks more like a living room. My artist-husband was jealous of all that light. You can see Monet’s love for colour even on the exterior. When you do step through the front door, you notice each room is painted a different colour. My favourite was the yellow kitchen.

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Touring Monet’s house doesn’t take long so we spent most of our time wandering under arches and walking down aisles of geraniums, roses, daisies, sunflowers, and other flora I don’t know the name of. What a visual feast! I could see why Monet wanted to spend the last part of his life here.

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Imagine having this pond in your backyard! There are actually two green Japanese footbridges at either end. I also saw some dilapidated wooden boats and pictured Monet sitting in one, transcribing light onto canvas to come up with these masterpieces on display in Musée de l’Orangerie.

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Giverny is basically a one-street town. At the far end of the main road is the church where Monet is buried, along with his family.

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This view capped off a peaceful day spent in the place that brought Monet such joy.

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If you’d like to know more about Monet’s gardens and who tends them now, read this fantastic article.

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In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 1

He’s arguably the best known painter in the world. His scenes of nature and Parisian life grace calendars, purses, notebooks, umbrellas, teapots, and even socks (check the VAG gift shop).

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Of course I’m talking about Claude Monet (1840-1926), the French Impressionist painter who influenced the course of modern art with his unconventional techniques. He painted outside (which wasn’t done at the time), and his quick, loose brushwork aimed to capture an impression of something, not the thing itself (hence the label Impressionist, which was first used by critics in a derogatory sense).

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently showing 38 of Monet’s works from the Musée Marmottan in Paris. In an interview with the CBC, the exhibition’s curator Marianne Matthieu says:

[Guests] have to visit this exhibition as if they were an invited guest of Monet. All the paintings have been selected personally by Monet [while he was alive] to describe his career, his life.

I visited the VAG last Tuesday evening (when admission is by donation) along with everyone else in Vancouver, so it seemed.

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The exhibit takes you chronologically through Monet’s work, beginning with some scenes with figures in them before the majority focuses all on nature.

I liked knowing Monet picked these works out himself. It made me wonder, Why this one? What did he like about it? What did he achieve with this one?

I enjoyed seeing paintings of his I had never come across in other galleries or books:

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Claude Monet, Le chatêau de Dolceacqua, 1884, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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Claude Monet, Vétheuil in the Fog, 1879, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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The picture does not do this piece justice.

Monet painted the same scene many times, in different seasons and different times of the day to study the effect of light on a subject. Light was his subject.

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Claude Monet, La Seine à Port-Villez, effet rose, 1894, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The two below were the only figurative works included. You can see the loose Impressionist style best by looking at the undefined faces. And the little boy practically blends in with the flowers.

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Claude Monet, En promenade près d’Argenteuil, 1875, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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Claude Monet, Sur la plage de Trouville, 1870–71, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The didactic panel for the image above talks about how sand was lodged in some of Monet’s canvasses because he painted these beach scenes outside. Talk about the nitty gritty.

I had assumed there would be more water lily paintings given the title is Secret Garden and Monet’s gardens in Giverny are synonymous with his grand, rectangular water lily paintings. This was the most “quintessential” one shown at the VAG, with the characteristic pastel blues, pinks, and purples:

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Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1903, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

There were also these two beautiful wisteria panels hung to mimic the oval rooms at Musée de L’Orangerie where Monet’s famous water lilies live.

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But there were other paintings that were darker and challenged what I thought I knew about the painter.

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Monet devoted the last two decades of his life to painting and cultivating his gardens in Giverny, a work of art in themselves. After touring the exhibition, I was surprised Monet chose so many of these works to depict his career  when he has hundreds of others to choose from. But perhaps these works came closest to communicating his artistic vision?

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Claude Monet, Le Pont japonais, 1918-24, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

In 1902, Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes, and his works during his later years became increasingly abstract and darker. Notice also how much of the blank canvas he lets show through. The curator’s remarks accompanying this room below suggest the anguish and grief of WWI seeped into Monet’s canvasses, particularly his weeping willow series.

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Claude Monet, Saule pleureur, 1918-19, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

After all this heaviness and twisty contortions, Monet’s very last work closes the exhibition, returning to the light and soft palette that infused his earlier work (albeit looking unfinished). I thought it was a perfect farewell.

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Claude Monet, Les Roses, 1925-26, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Seeing these works has only increased my anticipation of setting foot in Monet’s gardens this fall and immersing myself in his inspiration.

I highly recommend you take in this exhibit at the VAG before it closes October 1!