Pilgrimage to Giverny
Water lilies and reflections are one of my favorite subjects to paint. With three days in Paris this past July at the end of a painting trip in France, my top priority was a day trip to Giverny to visit Monet’s home and gardens, especially his water garden.
As a child I sat mesmerized before Monet’s paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery in DC, and later at the Met and MOMA in New York. But the first time I visited l’Orangerie in Paris, surrounded on all sides by the magnificent murals that Monet created in the last years of his life, I felt that I was actually sitting at the side of the artist by his beautiful lagoon.
This time in Paris I hoped to visit the Louvre, the Orsay, the Musee Marmotan, and perhaps the Rodin Museum! Or at least as many of those places as I could. But I arrived at the Louvre to find the square FULL of people. It was the first Sunday of the month, and the museums were free. The place was mobbed. Same story at the Orsay. So I found myself again at l’Orangerie, and was able to get in with only a half hour wait.
It was wonderful to see these paintings again before my trip to Giverny. Downstairs a show on collector and dealer Paul Guillaume included miniature rooms from his apartment in Paris complete with tiny models of his African art collection! It reminded me of the hours I spent staring into the miniature rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago when as a child, I went to work with my dad! African art inspired and excited Guillaume, and many of the contemporary artists he represented such as Cezanne, Derain, Modigliani. I thought of my dad, who introduced me to the joys of museums, and always supported my exploration of art. He would have been as thrilled as I was to be there.
When I emerged from the museum it was pouring. Soaked, I considered but gave up on my plans to visit any more museums, deciding that I had absorbed enough art and water for one day.
Mary, one of the other artists on the pastel trip, and I planned to rendezvous in Giverny on Monday. That morning I was at Gare St. Lazare, tickets in hand, waiting to see what platform the train would be on, when it suddenly disappeared from the board. Electrical problems in Rouen caused all the trains to be canceled on that line that day. Mary was staying in Rouen and was stranded as well. Disappointed, I took my pastels and went over to the Jardin des Plantes to do a little plein air painting.
The next day we resolved to try again. The forecast was calling for showers and then steady rain, so I left my pastels at the hotel. Mary is an optimist, so she brought hers along. We met at the station in Vernon, and boarded the bus to Giverny. We got to the gardens around 9:45, and it was already packed with tours. Resolved to see the water garden while the weather held, we leapfrogged the groups, and made our way directly there.
Mary and I inched our way around the pond, so happy to be there, taking it all in. The sun actually came out for a while, but mostly the sky was like a giant soft box, perfect for photography. We even cracked out our paints, Mary her pastels, and me a small watercolor kit, and painted for a little while before it started to pour.
Surprisingly, the garden was even more beautiful in the rain! The water lilies opened up along with all the colorful umbrellas. The pattern of rain on the water, the calligraphy of the willow branches in front of the pond!! I felt transported into one of Monet’s paintings, just soaking up the beauty of the place. My shoes were also soaking, unfortunately. But I had my borrowed umbrella from the hotel, and I couldn’t have been happier to be where I was at that moment.
Monet’s house was charming, and a walk though the village gave us glimpses of Giverny as it was in Monet’s time. Mary and I hugged goodbye, both of us so happy to have been able to share the experience with a like-minded traveler.