Claude Monet first drifted into my life when I was about 6 years old. My brother was a self-taught artist and he had stack of art books and I first fancied them because of the colours. They were pretty. Soon, I was inspired. I picked up names of a few artists (Monet being one) and techniques without knowing a single thing about them and that was that.
The second time Monet came into my life was when I was in boarding school. One of my best friends then had an older sister. Both the sisters were talented artists and thanks to our resident art teacher, the older sister researched famous artists from various ages as well as art movements. My friend, her sister, got a glimpse of the books and told me about it and soon, Monet became one of her favourites and in turn, impressionism. I was never a good artist but because of her interest and her enthusiasm, and me understanding what she was talking about, even if it was just recognising the name, we became overwhelmed with it and it became our thing because that’s how 12 year-old girls function. That year, during our summer break, I went to my local book store and asked them for books on art.
There are a few wonderful things about growing up in a small town that 97% of the world still don’t know about and one of those is finding treasure. That year, it was in the form of a magazine called The Great Artists (a weekly Cavendish Collection). I have never seen this magazine anywhere else in India except for my hometown even till today. I bought almost each and every magazine (still at home today) and even took some to school to share with my friend.
I felt like Lucy and these magazines were my wardrobe to the world of John Millias, Van Gogh and Monet. Apart from their famous works of art, the magazine wrote about the lives of these artists among other details. Those magazines taught me about the artists, their lives as well as the phases and changes art went through and how social and political changes were as significant as a beautiful face to serve as an inspiration.
The third time that Monet came into my life, he was persistent. I was studying in Melbourne and one day while taking the tram to Uni, a giant impression of the water lilies passed me by. Melbourne trams are always decked up especially for events or for ads and commercials so naturally, I was intrigued. Before the tram left, I got the information I wanted: The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) was hosting a Claude Monet exhibition (and there was a student discount on the tickets). Monet and I were finally destined to meet. So one Sunday in August 2013, I made the effort to look nice enough and went to meet him.
It was an exhilarating feeling and the NGV had curated it beautifully touching on both his artistic and his personal life. The waterlilies were there and the canvases were larger than I imagined. The main event of this exhibition however was a short film on Monet’s Garden; sometime I was unaware of. It was a short film on loop and I caught half of it at first so I sat through to watch it from the start. Over and over again. It was Monet’s Garden in Giverny caught in film from dawn till dusk. Just music, no narrative. I had never felt such a sense of longing, such a sense of attachment to a place I had only learned about. I carved out a big place in my mind for that film to make sure it stays on with me till I one day saw Giverny.
And in October 2015, I did. It was my turn to pay my long overdue visit to Monet.
“my garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” - Claude Monet
Because of the attachment that I felt at first sight with Monet’s garden, I am quite out of depth here to describe my emotions accurately. It was a very personal encounter and all I could say was that I felt blessed.
Giverny is a quiet little French village an hour away from Paris. Seeing as the main attraction there is Monet’s Garden, there is a bus that waits for all visitors. It was still a very rainy day but there was no way the weather was coming between me and Monet. I sacrificed Versailles for Giverny even before the trip began. In fact, my France itinerary had always been: Giverny, Arles and Normandy. Why? Because: Monet, Van Gogh and World War. And seeing as I had the most terrible time in France, I really need to make up for it. Soon.
But back to Monet.
Monet was a keen traveler and he put his memories to use while painting. He was also greatly influenced by the Japanese and this is evident in one of his gardens. There are two garden and one in simply called The Japanese Garden complete with a bridge. From the distance, everything about the scene felt unreal: the bridge against the willow and the burst of (autumn) colours? It wasn't possible that I was there in such a place. There were many visitors and tourists and my sister was there closely too but I was undeniably in a state of reverie.
He competed creating his garden in 1899 but continued to dedicate time in perfecting it himself even though he had several gardeners at his disposal. His garden also became his greatest source of inspiration of which the waterlilies play a centrifugal role.
“It took me a long time to understand my water lilies” he said and it isn’t hard to believe considering the number of paintings he dedicated to them. Sadly, he confessed destroying many as well. Every painting of Monet which depicts his garden is a vision of reality. I must confess that seeing the waterlilies felt very magical. They aren’t always said to be in bloom and on a day without rain, I can only imagine how the scene would be like but not even the rain was taking that moment away from me.
Every painting of Monet which depicts his garden is a vision of reality. He seemed to have studied the component of light and colour so well because the positioning of the flowers was also placed accordingly. The colours in his paintings were not made up or a conjuring of something he wished for. It was all in his garden. In fact, regardless of when you visit, which ever season it is, you will find the garden in bloom; a colour bomb. I am unsure if this was Monet’s plan or if it was an initiative by the Claude Monet Foundation. During his later years, the fact that his eyesight began to fail was a torment for Monet. Yet, he continued to paint what he could see and also partly with memory. Monet’s home has been cared for so well that you actually feel that you might catch a glimpse of him or his wife coming at you and greeting you.
It rained the entire time we were there touring the house and the garden. Typical French weather I am told. Yet no one seemed to complain or notice and for once, neither did I. At least half of the visitors and tourists including my sister bought an umbrella from the gift shop. Each had a Monet painting on it and in the rain, it was an apparition of moving impressionism art which in fact created a beautiful scene.
Leaving Monet’s house and Giverny felt as surreal as visiting it but my entire experience with Monet has been an encounter of coincidences and a moment I can recollect. So yeah... I wouldn’t have it any other way.
OCTOBER 05, 2015