Giverny Revisited

A short drive of one hour (or a train ride of 50 minutes from Gare Saint-Lazare) takes one to the small village of Giverny whose main attraction is the Monet Gardens and Home. Two summers ago, I spent a week in the hills just above Giverny. I had the great good fortune to visit Monet’s gardens every morning before tourists arrived, and in the early evening after the tourists had left. As far as beauty went, it was a breathtaking week that has lingered in my mind.

In the hills looking down on Giverny and the Seine

I went with an art group even though I was hoping for writing inspiration. I was half-way through my book that was published in May. We stayed at La Réserve, a maison d’hôtes (bed and breakfast), that is hosted by Valerie and Francois Jouyet (www.giverny-lareserve.com). The group leaders stayed in a separate cottage, called a gîte, that has a spacious living room/dining room, well-equipped kitchen and, I was sure, some very nice bedrooms. I stored all this in the back of my mind and vowed that I would return someday and rent the cottage.

Monet’s water lily pond

Not wanting to get on a plane, this summer, to go anywhere, I decided to make all my summer travels close to Paris, easy to get to, and a place of both beauty and rest. In June, I went to Brittany. In July, I went to Normandie. And last week, as a birthday treat to myself, I, and two friends, rented the cottage at La Réserve and stayed for a whole week.

Map of Monet’s home, gardens, water lily pond

I have written about Giverny and the gardens before and won’t repeat myself. This year, being the strange and extraordinary year it has been, going to Monet’s gardens in August didn’t seem like a silly idea. There would probably be no Americans, no Japanese and no Chinese. That group alone makes up for 75% of the visitors on any given day in July or August pre-pandemic. We didn’t know what to expect but this whole time since February 7 has been an adventure of not knowing, so we were game for anything.

Water lily pond

After an hour’s drive from the suburbs of Paris, we arrived at La Réserve on a Wednesday. We were greeted by Valerie who was kind enough to say she remembered me. She walked us over to the cottage. I was delighted. It was better than I remembered. Large bedrooms with double beds, an en-suite bathroom in each bedroom; and a grill outside the back door. We had a private garden with a picnic table for evening dining. I remembered strong Wi-Fi but this time it wasn’t to be. No one ever figured out what was wrong but for most of the week, we were without internet. Once I accepted that, the week took on a even calmer atmosphere: disconnected from the world of Zoom but seeing people everyday in the form of my two friends, and whoever we met on our many walks traipsing up and down the hills surrounding Giverny.

View of the side of La Réserve

As with most museums in Paris and France, during the time of Covid-19, one has to make a reservation to get into Monet’s gardens. I was told that they were letting in 350 people an hour which is about 4000 less people a day than earlier summers. We were to come on time and queue up at a door that I had no idea existed. As we showed our tickets, a young woman asked us to hold out our hands for the sanitising spray of disinfectant. The path from the door opened onto the steps going down to the small tunnel that leads to the water-lily pond. Large green arrows marked the way, and there was no doubt that one followed the arrows, no exceptions. So, like a long snake winding it’s body around the entire pond, we walked slowly, single and double file, with no distance between us and the people ahead. If we stopped to look at anything and talk about it, it was easy. No jumping up and down to see over someone’s head or ducking under an armpit to get closer to a view of the beautiful water-lilies that were open and happy to be seen. It seemed like a lot of people but it really wasn’t.

Some Fall color creeping in

One round of the pond was all that was allowed, and then we were escorted across the road to the house gardens. The colors were just starting to turn an orange and a brown. The nasturtiums in the Allée des Roses had all been cut back and the allée was now a large pathway. It was blocked off as was much of those paths that meander around the house gardens. Again we followed the green arrows and ended up in another queue to enter the home. It’s been years since I had been in the house. Crowds make me very uncomfortable and every other time I’d been there, people packed the house like sardines. Not this time. This time, I got to appreciate how spacious the house is and how fortunate Monet was to have become so well-known long before his death. He had the means to create what so many of us are enjoying 120 years later. He loved and was inspired by Japanese art. Part of his upstairs art collection is a large selection of Japanese paintings and prints that hang on many of the walls. The upstairs consists of three bedrooms, two ‘bathrooms” (I’m not sure what they were called back then), two staircases, windows in every room opening onto the gardens and, also, many paintings done by his friends: Cezanne, Pissaro, Renoir, Sisley and others. The yellow and blue dining room and the blue-tiled kitchen are spectacular and one can only dream of dining there in such company.

Monet’s dining room

Down the pedestrian walkway is the Musée d’Impressionisms. It used to be a museum for American painters that came to Giverny but sometime in the last ten years, it switched over to the museum it is today. Expositions, that are often fascinating, are installed once or twice a year. Two years ago, the expo was of the Japanese influence on many of the Impressionist painters. Paintings, Japanese and French, hung side by side to demonstrate what words on the walls were explaining to us. This time, it was Impressionists along the rivers and beach heads of Normandie. Two rooms were devoted to Hiramatsu Reiji, a Japanese painter who is clearly influenced by Monet. From his work, one can tell that he loves the gardens and Monet’s prolific work. He has produced some very beautiful pieces that included painting on canvas and on screens. I don’t believe he would be considered an Impressionist so it was a bit puzzling why he was there. I wasn’t complaining. His work is breathtaking.

Painted screen – Hiramatsu Reiji

One evening, we attended a chamber concert held in the museum. We were very lucky. We had been told that we could buy tickets at the entrance on the same evening. When we arrived, the women checking off names, laughed saying the concerts had been sold out months ago. With social distancing, an auditorium that was built to sit 270 people, was now sitting 78 or so. She said we could wait if we wanted to take our chances. I was positive we would get in. There are always some people who are no-shows. Indeed, we did get in, and heard two pianos play dance music from Westside Story (Leonard Bernstein), music for strings and piano playing Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin). There was also Samuel Barber and Prokofiev but if it had only been the first three pieces, I would have been extremely happy. It was a highlight of my week.

Our last night at La Reserve. Sunset over the main house.

Every evening, we walked back to our cottage at La Réserve and grilled fish, meat, veggie burgers, corgettes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. We ate outside watching the light of August slowly eep away as the days were getting shorter. Our last evening, we witnessed a remarkable sunset. I had been reading about the many California fires and, to me, it seemed the sky was on fire. It was that dramatic. The reds, oranges, whites, yellows and purples danced and flew as if they were on stage. One minute it would get darker then, suddenly, it was lighter again. The clouds swirled. As they moved further away from the sun, the white clouds appeared as mountains with red caps or orange at their feet. We stood watching for a good fifteen minutes. It was our final art expo of the week, gratis via nature.

Sara, well and truly masked, enjoying Monet’s water lily pond
Terrace at Hotel Baudy
Saturday marché in Vernon (4 km from Giverny)

A bientôt,

Sara

Le Musée Marmottan-Monet

People traveling to Paris always seem to have high on their list of “Must See” first the Eiffel Tower then The Louvre followed by the Musee d”Orsay.  If you were to ask them who their favourite French painter is, more than likely 60% or more of them would respond “Monet”.  So I have made it a project of mine to introduce Americans to the Musée Marmottan-Monet.

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It just happens to be about three blocks from where I live but that is only one of the reasons I love it.  In no particular order, I love it because 1–it is small and easily negotiable without getting overwhelmed or tired.  2– it has the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world 3–it has the largest collection of Berte Morrissot paintings and drawings and 4–it is a wonderful example of what an old hunting lodge turned town house looked like back in the days when this part of Paris was actually outside of Paris and men came in the Autumn to hunt.

The website of the Musée Marmottan has this to say about the history of the building and the permanent Collection.  “Former hunting lodge of Christophe Edmond Kellerman, Duke of Valmy, the Marmottan Monet Museum was bought in 1882 by Jules Marmottan. His son Paul settled in it, and had another hunting lodge built to house his private collection of art pieces and First Empire paintings.

Upon his death he bequeathed all his collections, his town house – which will become the Marmottan Monet Museum in 1934 – and the Boulogne Library’s historical rich historical archives to the French Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1957, the Marmottan Monet Museum received the private collection of Madame Victorine Donop de Monchy as a donation inherited from her father, Doctor Georges de Bellio, one of the first lovers’ of impressionism whose patients included Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, and Renoir.

In 1966, Michel Monet, the painter’s second son, bequeathed his property in Giverny to the French Academy of Fine Arts and his collection of paintings, inherited from his father, to the Marmottan Monet Museum. This donation endowed the Museum with the largest Claude Monet collection in the world. On this occasion, the academician architect and museum curator, Jacques Carlu, built a room inspired from the Grandes Décorations in the Tuilerie’s Orangerie to house the collection.

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The Denis and Annie Rouart Foundation was created in 1996 within the Marmottan Monet Museum, in compliance with the benefactress’ wishes. The Museum was hence enriched with prestigious works by Berthe Morisot, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Henri Rouart.

In 1980, Daniel Wildstein gave the Museum the exceptional illumination collection put together by his father. Throughout the years, other major donations have come to enrich the Marmottan Monet Museum collections: Emile Bastien Lepage, Vincens Bourguereau, Henri Le Riche, Jean Paul Léon, André Billecocq, Gaston Schulmann, Florence Gould Foundation, Cila Dreyfus, and Thérèse Rouart.”

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As well as the extraordinary room downstairs that houses many of the Monet’s, the Museum has twice yearly exhibitions.  The one that is there from September 13, 2018–February 10, 2019 is called Private Collections: From Impressionism to the Fauves.  The entire exhibition is paintings taken from private collections, many have never been seen before.

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It seems only right that the exhibition opens with paintings by Monet.

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Caillebotte, who I never studied in University as an Art History major, has become an artist that I highly respect and I have grown to love his work.  The poster announcing the exhibition is by Caillebotte.

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I’ve never seen this work by Gauguin

 

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or this one!!

These two Gauguin paintings are examples of his work from the time he lived in Pont-Aven, Brittany.  I had to include The School of Pont-Aven as I visited friends there last summer.  That is when I first learned of the school and the Gauguin stayed there between Paris and French Polynesia.

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I have taken up way too much of your time so I will introduce you to Berte Morisot and her paintings at another time.  If you are coming to Paris, please make sure to visit the museum.  You take the metro 9 to La Muette.  From there you walk through the wonderful Parc de Ranelagh.  The park ends at the museum.  If you love art, you will not be sorry.

And to wet your appetite in case you are not visiting until next Spring, the next exhibition is posted here!!

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For more information on the Musée Marmottan-Monet: http://www.marmottan.fr/page.asp?ref_arbo=2507

And Paris??  It is cold, cold, cold.  The days have been in the high 40s and low 50s.  The nights have fallen to the high 30s.  Out have come the wooly caps and scarves, down jackets and doubling up on socks in one’s boots.  Restaurants have brought out their large heaters so that Parisians can still sit outside if they choose.  Seats have blankets on them to serve as lap warmers!!!  How wonderful is Paris?!

So wherever you are, stay warm.

Everyone in Paris is praying and wishing the United States Bon Chance and Bon Courage on November 6.

A bientot

Sara