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Why I never get tired of Monet's gardens


We were visiting Monet's gardens and home at Giverny last September, for perhaps the sixth time in twenty-some years of visiting France when my wife asked "Why are we here? Everything is so crowded, I'm not sure what people are coming for. It feels almost like turning Monet into an idol to be worshiped. It's all gotten very commercial."

P1070373The line to get in can be quite long!

I didn't see that one coming: In fact, we had both looked forward to the visit when it was planned, and it was one of my high-priority items, since we had never seen the ever-changing gardens so late in the season.

P1070382P1070385But it was a good question. Even though the crowds might have been smaller if we hadn't carelessly picked a warm Saturday, it was one that needed an answer...and here I try.

P1070395P1070394First, I'll say that I'm never very interested in someone's birthplace or where they lived for a short while; places like that don't bear the famous person's imprint, they offer few clues to why he or she wrote, or painted, or acted in a particular way.

Monet's view from the porch of the house, looking toward the gate.

But a place someone created, that reflects the work of their maturity, or their world view—that's different. Bertolt Brecht's living and work space in Berlin. Fredric Church's house on the Hudson. And yes, Monet's home and gardens, have an appeal for me, not because of his fame, but because of the way in which they are connected to his art.

P1070400P1070380Even within that, I've only once joined the walk through the Monet home. It is full of insight into his life and relationships (for better or for worse) and is in itself an artistic expression. For that, though, once seemed enough. On all our other visits, I've kept to the flower gardens and the water gardens with the famous lily ponds.

P1070412P1070413P1070420And what attracts me to them is not their personal association, but their integral relationship with his work as an artist. Not only that he designed them and laid them out so that he could paint them in their changing seasons, but that they are equally works of art with his paintings. 

P1070405P1070422P1070475And just as he explored issues of light and color and shape in series paintings—haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, the water lilies, and more—by painting them again and again in different light at different times of the day, the gardens, viewed over the course of a year, offer the same kinds of changes. They are almost a living painting series.

P1070399P1070387P1070430Aside from the links to Monet's art work, I am also drawn to Giverny by the massing and variation of the flower varieties and the shaping of paths and waterways. Colors blend together and stand apart in seemingly casual but carefully planned arrays. Regular shapes and the odd ones draw attention, stand out from the crowd and then recede.

P1070443P1070448P1070456Because there is so much color, and so much variety, and so much change, I think I will never get tired of Giverny. And neither, I suspect, will all the other thousands come to share it.


If you're planning a visit, you might want to allow at least two hours in the gardens and the house; like so many other things, it reveals itself best in slow motion. There are a number of small cafes and food places along the street behind the estate.


Another lunch option would be to plan a visit to the Museum of Impressionism Giverny, only a 5-minute walk down Rue Claude Monet. It has a quite pleasant cafe with a terrace, and good simple meals at not unreasonable prices.


The museum itself has a small but interesting collection of works by a group of American Impressionists who painted together in the area from the 1890s up to World War I, drawn to the area by Monet's presence. The museum also hosts a couple of annual special exhibitions each year, always worthwhile.


Visiting Giverny: There are frequent trains from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris to Vernon, the town across the river from Giverny. In fact, the station is now listed as Vernon-Giverny. It's about a 45-minute trip, with fares ranging from €9.60 to €14.70, depending on the train. Senior discounts available. At the station, there's a shuttle bus direct to the estate, with a €5 fare.

The house and gardens are open from April through October.

If you feel like a pleasant walk, it's just under 5 km from the station to the gardens, either along the route that follows the river, or the more pleasant pedestrian-only path that's parallel and a little further up the hill.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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