ABOARD THE AMALEGRO, Normandy – Monet painted them 500 times. We’re going to paint them only once and today we saw them with our own eyes:
Claude Monet’s famous water lilies.
On the second day of our “Art Illumination” cruise we traveled to Giverny, site of the extraordinary gardens that Monet, one of France’s most illustrious painters, created around his home.
That home and those gardens – both of which fell into sad disrepair in the years after Monet’s death in 1926 – have been beautifully restored, and are now among of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe.
The water lilies are just the beginning of the beauty here. The gardens are larger and more extensive than I expected. Monet’s lilies are surrounded by a stunning chaos of other flowers (Monet didn’t like to plant in rows) — snapdragons, hollyhocks, heliopsis, delphiniums, clematis, irises, roses., tulips and many other brilliant varieties. We were lucky that the day’s excursion from the AMALegro took place in mid-August, when most of flowers in the Giverny gardens were in full bloom.
Monet liked to do the gardening himself with the help of his wife. (“I may be a painter,” he said, but it’s “thanks to flowers.”). Now it takes eight fulltime gardeners to keep the gardens in their spectacular condition.
To my surprise, the flowers of the lily pads are multicolored. I had thought they were all white, but there are almost as many pink blossoms as white on the famous pond.
The cruise company has provided each of us with our own personal audio device, charged every night in our stateroom, to allow us to hear the ongoing patter of our excursion guides. One of the most interesting pieces of information I gleaned from our talk was the fact that French Impressionists like Monet never used black or white in their paintings.
When the American artist John Singer Sargent visited Monet at Geiverny he was shocked to learn this. His French counterpart explained to him that Impressionists did not consider black or white as colors.
Monet tragically developed cataracts as he aged and had surgery to clear his vision, only partially successful. As he grew older he added heavier layers of paint onto his works in an effort to offset his weakening eyesight
Cataracts or not, Monet painted the interior walls of his home in happy shades of pink, yellow and green, drawing the colors of the garden into the house.. Reproductions of his and other Impressionist works fill the walls of every room.
Ironically, Monet was at one time considered a polluter. He threw his leftover paints into the beautiful pond that now is renowned for its water lilies, and the farmers nearby claimed that the toxic ingredients in the paints were killing their cattle and sheep.
Monet cleaned up his pond by layering it with wood chips. Would that the EPA could clean up the Animus River in Durango, Colorado, as easily.
Some of our fellow passengers didn’t go to Giverny, choosing instead to walk into the town of Vernon where we’re docked, to explore this small village founded in the 9th Century by the first Duke of Normandy. In 2010, filmmaker Woody Allen came to visit Vernon during the production of his movie “Midnight in Paris.”
The rest of us took scores of photographs of the Giverny gardens, hoping they’ll help us paint our own versions of all this beauty tomorrow morning at our first onboard painting class with artist Elizabeth Grebler, who joined us this afternoon on the Giverny excursion.
Photos are by Timothy Leland