“Critic asks: ‘And what, sir, is the subject matter of that painting?’ The subject matter, my dear good fellow, is the light.”

~Claude Monet

It’s a funny thing when you visit a place that has lived for so long in your imagination. The experience expands your mind and spirit, filling you with new insights, inspiration and ideas. Instead of the satisfaction of mentally crossing off an item on a bucket list, you leave wanting to return, wishing you could simply press rewind on the previous few hours.

And so it was for Giverny and me. If you had asked me the name of my favorite painter when I was fifteen or twenty-five or fifty, the answer would always have been the same. Claude Monet. Even today, it still is. I’ve forever loved the Impressionists, and I’ve loved Claude Monet most of all.

Rain was forecast for our early morning visit to Giverny, but the late September sky was clear, with a smattering of low-hanging clouds. The ms Sapphire had docked overnight in the nearby town of Vernon, less than a ten-minute drive to Giverny. When we met our favorite guide Natalie, who had led our tour in Rouen, she greeted us with a big smile. “You couldn’t have asked for better weather,” she said. “The light is absolutely perfect!”

Walking into Giverny…

Haystacks Near Monet's House at Giverny - the modern postcard
A haystack beyond the fence. Monet created about thirty paintings of haystacks in a field near his home in Giverny.

Jardin d’Eau – The Water Garden

Claude Monet lived and worked in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926, creating the magnificent gardens that so famously starred in his paintings. Our tour began in the Water Garden, home of the bright green wisteria-covered Japanese bridge that arches over one end of the water lily pond. The wisteria blooms and lilies had faded months ago when summer spilled into autumn, but that didn’t make the water garden appear dormant at this time of year. Instead, the pond was vibrant and alive, surrounded with yellows, greens, purples and bursts of crimson.

Monet planted for the seasons. When blooms from one month began to fade, new colors appeared, creating a palate as rich and varied as the paint he used to preserve their memory. The Giverny Foundation provides a month-by-month list of various flowers that bloom between April 1st and November 1st, when the garden is open to the public. For our visit in September, the list included nasturtiums, asters, dahlias, cosmos and rudbeckias.

And then there is that matter of the light. Wherever and whatever he painted – be it the cathedral in Rouen or his garden in Giverny – Monet was constantly chasing the light. On this early morning in late September, it was simply extraordinary.

Giverny Water Garden - the modern postcard
So beautiful…
Monet's Water Garden at Giverny - the modern postcard
...and serene.
Boats peeking through bamboo.
Across the pond…the famous Japanese bridge. Monet painted it bright green instead of the traditional red.
Reflections in the water.
Lily pads looking like splashes of light.
Such a joy to be standing on that bridge!

The Clos Normand – The Normandy Garden

For his Clos Normand, Monet continued planting a palate of colors that change with the seasons. Metal arches covered with wildflowers span the pathway leading to his bright green front door, and flowering trees add even more color to the thousands of flowers carpeting the ground. It’s an absolute wonderland of color and beauty!

The arch-covered pathway leading to Monet’s house.
Pausing for a photo in the Clos Normand.
Our guide told us that Monet created these benches for his wife and children so they could chat in the garden while he painted.
Walking in the Clos Normand.
Color, color everywhere…

Monet’s House at Giverny

Our guided tour ended at Monet’s delightful pink house with green shutters. Natalie explained that guides were not permitted inside because they slow down the traffic flow as they stop to talk. Once inside the long, narrow home, it was easy to understand what she meant!

Monet’s house simply oozes joy, and I got the feeling that he had a happy life. Unlike so many painters at that time, he was able to make a good living with his art. I thought of Vincent van Gogh, who did some of his best work in an asylum and later took his own life in a town not too far from Giverny. And I remembered a sign in Maurice Utrillo’s Montmartre bedroom that said bars had been installed on his window to keep him from throwing things at people below. Gifted geniuses with tormented souls who gave so much to the world, but who seemed to take so little joy for themselves.

Monet’s life, however, was rich with family and color and all those flowers. Walking through the rooms in his pink-and-green world, I was struck by how he boldly lived his life on his own terms. Never mind that exterior shutters were typically painted gray in those days. It was as if he took a brush and covered the entire property with the brightest shade of green he could find. And a dining room bathed in the color of the sun? What a happy place for his family to gather.

Monet’s House at Giverny.
Monet’s first studio later became the room where he greeted visitors. According to the Foundation website, the furniture is exactly the same as it was when he lived there.
Reproductions of Monet’s work reflect the atmosphere of the studio. Many of the originals that were kept in this room are on display at Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris.
The desk in Monet’s bedroom…
…and the view of his garden from his bedroom window.
One of his daughter’s bedrooms.
Monet’s yellow Dining Room…
…where his collection of Japanese prints is displayed.
The blue-themed kitchen…
…awash in patterned tiles.

Giverny – The Town

Monet’s Garden is the main attraction in the village of Giverny, population 496. There is one main street – rue Claude Monet – which has a few cafés and a hotel or two. After the tour, Herb and I walked to the end of town to find Monet’s grave. On the way, we ran into several friends from the cruise who joined us on this pilgrimage.

The Monet family plot lies behind the Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny. A pathway around the side of the church leads to Monet’s grave. The cemetery continues further uphill, with tombstones backing up to the countryside beyond.

Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny.
Monet is buried with his family in this plot behind the church.
The cemetery and surrounding countryside.

Back on rue Claude Monet, we stopped at a café for a coffee and final French pastry of the trip. The patio at Au Coin du Pain’tre proved to be a perfect ending to this wonderful morning.

The patio at Au Coin du Pain’tre.

We met the rest of our group in front of the Musée Giverny des Impressionisme and walked to the bus for the ride back to Vernon, where our riverboat was waiting to sail to Paris. It was nearing noon, and the sky was starting to look threatening. At the exact moment we set foot on the bus, it started to rain, and by the time we were ready to leave, it was a downpour. Herb and I looked at each other and laughed, not quite believing our good fortune. The good weather gods had been incredibly kind to us on this trip, especially here, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for all these years.

Claude Monet once said that he believed his garden was his most beautiful masterpiece. It’s hard to agree with that when you look at his remarkable paintings. But after spending some time here, I now understand what he meant. “My heart is forever in Giverny,” he said.

And after this glorious day in his garden, I left a little piece of mine here, too.

6 Comments

  • Mary – I’ve been reliving my trip to Paris with you and Herb and your wonderful pictures make me sigh. I remember walking into Monet’s bedroom at the house in Giverny and standing in awe at being where he had lived so intimately. What a wonderful eye you have and your descriptions of what you’re seeing are spot-on. Especially the part where you and Herb just laughed at your weather luck – just what I’d expect from you two!

    • Judy, I’m so happy to know that you’re reliving your Paris trip, sighs and all! Thanks for your lovely comment. I know exactly what you mean about being in awe of Monet’s house and the intimate feeling it gives about his life. Truly a magical place. And yes…the timing of the rain was so bizarre that all we could do was laugh!

  • Beautiful pictures. I have visited Giverny many times but never in in the fall. The colors are so warm and rich! Since you are a fan of Monet, I hope you have visited the Musée Marmottan (https://www.marmottan.fr/en/) in Paris. They have an extraordinary collection of paintings and water lily murals. It’s off the main tourist track so usually populated by students and art lovers. Jennifer

    • Thank you, Jennifer! Fall was truly a gorgeous time to visit Giverny, and I think that Monet’s genius for planting colors that change with the seasons gives visitors a feast for the senses no matter what time of year they happen to be there. Thanks also for the great recommendation of Musée Marmottan. I have read wonderful things about it and had it on my list for this trip…but as always seems to happen with such lists, there just wasn’t time to fit it in. I guess that means we will just have to return 🙂

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