Tag Archives: Giverny

The Pondering Photographer & Monet’s Garden.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been traveling along a virtual railroad track, as I’ve steadily written letters to dead artists in alphabetical order, and have been really proud of myself for sticking to the timetable. Being focused. Yet, at the same time, getting into the heads of so many traumatised and suffering people, was clearly getting to me. Yet, I couldn’t get out either. I was enthralled.

book

Some time through the last week, I found myself thinking about Monet’s Garden, and how there could well be a place for Monet’s lilies, after all.

As if to prove a point, on Thursday I stumbled across a glossy coffee table book about Monet and His Garden in the book bin at the hospital. Clearly, it was meant to be. I needed to take some time out, fixate on the ripples in the pond, and unwind the spring a little.

As you may already know, I decided to pay Monet a visit and learned more about Monet, than I could ever hope to jam into a sentence. Besides, I’m focusing on Monet’s Pond today, and not the artist himself.

Anyway, as if the book wasn’t prompting enough, today while I was waiting for my daughter to get through a two hour dance audition, I stumbled across a real, live pond with actual lily pads.  Wow! I couldn’t believe it, especially as I wouldn’t have known where to find one if I’d tried. Clearly, it was meant to be, and I was meant to slow my mind down and stop for a bit. Not think about today’s artist, Albert Tucker and his expressionistic depictions of demonised trams. Rather, I was meant to lose my intensity in the mesmerising reflections of gum trees, red bottle brushes, and clouds while watching a water bird elegantly carve a path through the lot.

Blue Bridge Monets Pond

I wonder if you could cal this bridge: “The Blue Plank”?

I walked back to my car to retrieve my camera. This isn’t just any ordinary camera, and it certainly wasn’t my phone. Don’t be blasphemous! Convenience is no substitute for quality.

For me, there is nothing like seeing the world through my camera lens. It’s a different way of seeing, and my vision is so much clearer. As much as I wear glasses to correct my short-sightedness, my camera allows me to truly see, especially during the magic hour right before sunset, when some kind of switch suddenly releases the most beautiful, inspirational light.

DSC_9648

So, I wanted to share some of these photos with you, so you too could enjoy my pond. It’s no better or worse than Monet’s pond, but it is quite different. It’s more of a rustic Australian pond with its own colour scheme, and it certainly doesn’t have Monet’s bright cacophony of flowers through the surrounding garden. However, it’s shimmering reflections of Australian gum trees were masterpieces in their own right, and to my not so critical eye, appeared quite “Impressionistic”. Well, at least, they were blurry. That is, good blurry. Still, I would’ve loved to see one of those gorgeous Japanese bridges like Monet’s over our pond, and I wasn’t mad keen on the geometical, concrete bridge we had over ours, but its a different garden with its own personality, not a copy.

bird on pond horizontal

You see, two days ago, I had no intention of being anywhere near this pond. Indeed, my husband had taken the day off work and we were going sailing/kayaking. It’s been three years at least, since I last went out in the kayak and I’ve missed it so much. I can’t lift the kayak and we needed a boat trailer to get it in the water, and you’d be amazed at just how difficult things can be. (Or, maybe not!!)

DSC_9636

I spotted these mower tracks from the cafe and they really appealed. Green grass is also such a novelty, but for Geoff it reminded me of the green paddocks on the farm back in Tasmania.

Anyway, you know how this parenting caper goes. The best laid plans of Mum and Dad are blown out of the water by the kids. My daughter had a two hour audition to attend. While I did manage to fit in a 15 minute paddle. and it wasn’t worth me driving back and forth so I promised myself coffee and cake at a nearby cafe as compensation.

Anyway, you can sit in your corner and complain. Or, you can order yourself a slice of Passionfruit Cheesecake, a cappuccino and find yourself a pond. A pond I didn’t even know existed. It wasn’t what I’d intended to do today, but it was where I was meant to be.

The Impressionists Tree

Monet’s Tree

How do you unwind when you’re under a lot of stress or pressure? What lifts the load of Atlas off your back, and helps you to return to some form of calm equilibrium? Or, perhaps, you’re caught up in a storm so intense and ongoing, that you have no idea how or if you’ll ever get out.

Well, I’m holding your hand and walking right alongside you, even if we have never met. This why I am sharing my personal journey with what has turned out to be a very intense group of artists who reflected back the storm inside me, just as surely as the surface of a pond. Please hang in there and try to find the silver lining, even if you’re convinced someone’s thrown it away. I hope you can find even the smallest thing that will touch your heart, and light your path in some way. Keep searching. Keep walking. Never give up.

Best wishes,

Rowena

DSC_9694

Monet’s Greatest Work.

There’s a fine line between madness and genius. Indeed, I’m currently feeling like the madness side of the equation has taken hold of my brain, but sadly I’m missing the genius component. I know what I’m wanting to say, and yet my brain’s stuttering and I can’t quite get the story out. Meanwhile, Monet, the man who is rattling my brain, was a mixture of the two. Moving into his twilight years, Monet was a man not only possessed by his water lilies, but was also trying to create what could well have been his greatest gift to humanity.Yet, afflicted by failing eyesight and chronic self-doubt, he was floundering. Indeed, he wrote to a friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” So, I’m hoping that you’ll join me on another detour. One which could well be life-changing.
After visiting Monet’s stunning garden at Giverny, now we’re catching the train to Paris, where we’ll be meeting up at the Jardin de Tuilleries, not far from the Louvre. From there, we’ll be heading into the Gallerie de L’Orangerie to experience Monet’s incredible gift to the French nation and humanity…a spectacular series of water lily paintings. Monet gifted the paintings to the French nation on November 12, 1918, the day after Armistice and two days before his 78th birthday. Monet wasn’t only wanting to commemorate peace. He also wanted to create a peaceful place, where those shaken up by the war could rest their weary souls:
“You see, while shrapnel from mortars, grenades and, above all, artillery projectile bombs, or shells, accounted for an estimated 60 percent of the 9.7 million military fatalities of World War I, it was soon observed that many soldiers arriving at the casualty clearing stations who had been exposed to exploding shells, although clearly damaged, bore no visible wounds. Rather, they appeared to be suffering from a remarkable state of shock caused by blast force. This new type of injury, a British medical report concluded, appeared to be “the result of the actual explosion itself, and not merely of the missiles set in motion by it.” In other words, it appeared that some dark, invisible force had in fact passed through the air and was inflicting novel and peculiar damage to men’s brains.

“Shell shock,” the term that would come to define the phenomenon, first appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet in February 1915, only six months after the commencement of the war- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shock-of-war-55376701/

lorainger
The Gallerie de L’Orangerie explains his achievement:
“This unique set, a true “Sixtine of Impressionism”, in the words of André Masson in 1952, testifies to Monet’s later work. It was designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before. The set is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.”
The Gallerie also did a far better job than I, on explaining Monet’s difficulties in completing the series:

It was in 1914, at the age of 74, when he had just lost his son and could see no hope for the future, that Monet felt a renewed desire to “undertake something on a grand scale” based on “old attempts”. In 1909, he had already told Gustave Geffroy that he wanted to see the theme of the water lilies “carried along the walls”. In June 1914, he wrote that he was “embarking on a great project”. This undertaking absorbed him for several years during which he was beset by obstacles and doubts, and when the friendship and support of one man proved decisive. This was the politician Georges Clemenceau. They met in 1860, lost touch, and met up again after 1908 when Clemenceau bought a property in Bernouville near Giverny. Monet shared Clemenceau Republican’s ideas, and we also know of Clemenceau’s keen interest in the arts. During the war, Monet continued his work alternately in the open air, when the weather was suitable, and in the huge studio that he had had built in 1916 with roof windows for natural light. On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, Monet wrote to Georges Clemenceau: “I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.” The painter, therefore, intended to give the nation a real monument to peace. At this time, when it was still not certain where the decorative series was destined, it seems that Clemenceau managed to persuade Monet to increase this gift from just two panels to the whole decorative series. In 1920, the gift became official and resulted, in September, in an agreement between Monet and Paul Léon, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, for the gift to the State of twelve decorative panels that Léon would undertake to install according to the painter’s instructions in a specific building. However, Monet, prey to doubt, continually reworked his panels and even destroyed some. The contract was signed on 12 April 1922 for the gift of 19 panels, but Monet, still dissatisfied, wanted more time to perfect his work. Clemenceau wrote to him in vain that year “you are well aware that you have reached the limit of what can be achieved with power of the brush and of the mind.” But, in the end, Monet would keep the paintings until his death in 1926. His friend Clemenceau then put everything into action to inaugurate the rooms for the Water Lilies in strict accordance with Monet’s wishes.http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/history-water-lilies-cycle

Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this exhibition when I was in Paris, and as I’ve mentioned before, with my love of expressionist art, I wasn’t as keen on Monet at the time. However, now I can just imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of that room surrounded by Monet’s lilies and the deep sense of peace and serenity which must fill the room, as though Picasso’s dove of peace had built its nest in there. It feels like a miracle.
Have you ever been to the Gallerie de l’Orangerie? What was it like? How did it feel? I’d love to hear from people who’ve experienced the collection first hand!
Best wishes,
Rowena

Why We Need Monet’s Garden…A-Z Challenge.

When I made my list of 26 artists at the outset of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I simply chose my very favourite artists and their works, while then going on something of a quest to top up the missing letters.  While I’d fully intended to have the entire series ready to go by April 1st, perhaps you could say that I became the April Fool trying to write a letter each day and taking on all that entails. Indeed, merging into and almost becoming a different artist every day, especially when each one of them seemingly endured so much suffering, has been intense. Yet, back at the start when I first set out of this very spontaneous journey, it never crossed my mind that spending a month with a bunch of highly charged artists, mostly Expressionists, might get a bit draining and that I might actually need a break…a change of pace.

monet_portrait_photo_orangerie

That is why we’ve detoured to Monet’s exquisite garden at Giverney today. We’re going to float along in the muted sunshine and soak up all the peace and tranquillity of his beautiful water lilies. After all, as my old friend Keats expressed in Ode to Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

 Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

-John Keats, excerpt Ode to Melancholy.

You could say this whole process of writing to dead artists, has been intense to say the least. Indeed, getting inside someone else’s skin, isn’t something for the half-hearted. Those who sheepishly only dip the tip of their toe in the water. Rather, it calls for nothing less than full immersion, where nothing else can get in or out, and you’re absorbing your “hero” body and soul by osmosis. This process is nothing short of intense, as you all but alter your physical makeup to become them.

Yet, you also need to get out. Return to your regular self.

In the process of writing these letters to 26 different artists through the month of April, I’m switching skins and mindsets every day, and somehow also absorbing a mountain of biographical detail to boot. Yet, somehow I’m pulling it off.

At the same time, I’m intensely conscious that I’m playing with fire. That I can’t put myself through this psychological mincer every day, and know I’ll still be together at the end of the month. That I won’t have defragmented to the point of no return. Or, floated off into the clouds like a red helium balloon with nothing tying it down to the ground.

As creative as this might appear, it’s not healthy.

My feet need to be firmly planted on the ground, whenever my mind goes wandering. More than that, my feet need to be planted in rich, fertile soil not only to nourish my creativity, but also my physical well-being. That as much as I might think I live in my head, this control centre is attached to, and nourished by, the body down below.

So, as much as I’ve wanted to stay immersed in this incredibly stimulating creative vortex, towards the end of last week I started thinking I needed some kind of Intermission in between all the intensity of Munch’s The Scream, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Picasso’s Blue Period and also what lies ahead. Somewhere along the way there, my thoughts naturally wandered off to Monet’s Garden and I suddenly saw his paintings in a fresh light. That they weren’t so insipid after all, and were actually peaceful and relaxing…a place of healing.  I don’t know what triggered my wanderings through Monet’s Garden. book

However, on Thursday morning these meanderings suddenly crystallized, when I “stumbled across” Vivian Russell gorgeous coffee table book: Monet’s Garden: Through The Seasons At Giverny in the second hand book trolley at the hospital. Of course, it was meant to be. That, before I went any further, I needed to visit Monet’s Garden and rest.

 

Perhaps, I should’ve considered the need for shades of light and dark during this series at the outset. However, this entire journey’s been completely unplanned and spontaneous. Aside from that list of names, I haven’t had any kind of itinerary. Rather, I’m constantly adjusting my compass as fresh details come to light which could well unravel my mental portrait of the artist completely, and I’m forced to start over. Paint over the canvas. Punch in the clay.

That’s what happens when you truly become immersed in a character. You become acutely aware of their every little nuance, twist and turn. Well, at least as much as the Internet will tell me, which isn’t a complete picture, even with the artists who’ve turned themselves inside out in multiple interviews. There’s always the Seventh Veil. That no go zone.

Before I go to Monet’s Garden, however, I guess I’d better spill out why I didn’t write to him earlier, and why I chose to write to Edvard Munch instead. I have loved and lived The Scream all my life, even before I even knew it was there. It represents that anguished cry of the soul and the isolated individual who, misunderstood and abandoned by the world, is calling out to the wind. I venture to assume that everyone has experienced that anguish at some point in their life, even if it isn’t every day or very often. The Scream puts a real face to those feelings, and even offers a release….an exit from my house of horrors.

On the other hand, Monet’s water lilies were very tranquil, pretty and atmospheric, but where’s the angst? While I wouldn’t describe Monet’s works as Chocolate box art, perhaps they’ve just become too familiar, and I couldn’t appreciate their divine qualities until now.

Indeed, if you put The Scream and the Water Lillies side by side, you’d easily draw the conclusion that Monet had an easy life while Munch experienced such deep suffering and anguish that his grief had no end.

I, of all people, should’ve known better. That despite all the sufferings of my medical problems, I’m mostly smiling and trying to carpe diem seize the day with both hands squeezing the juice out of life. I’m not moping around complaining. Moreover, you have to know me pretty well or, be professionally trained to see how I am affected. Meanwhile, to most of the world, not insubstantial obstacles get filed under the carpet as seeming “invisibilities”. I’m fine. In fact, even I admit that I usually look like I’m doing better than most.

Death of his wife Camille

Monet endured great suffering and bouts of severe depression which went with it. In 1857, Monet suffered greatly when his mother died when he was seventeen. His father being a wealthy businessman, Monet took more after his mother who was a trained singer and might well have defended her son’s desire to become a professional artist. Losing this person who potentially understood him on the cusp of becoming a man, could well have compounded his loss.  Shortly after her death, Monet went to live with his aunt, who understood him better than his father I guess. Around 1866, Monet met his future wife, Camille Doncieux, who also modelled for him. The couple experienced great hardship around the birth of their first son, Jean, in 1867. Monet was in dire financial straits, and his father was unwilling to help them. Monet became so despondent over the situation that, in 1868, he attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the Seine River. Monet’s personal life was marked by hardship around this time. Around 1878, Camille became ill during her second pregnancy (their second son, Michel, was born in 1878), and she continued to deteriorate. Monet painted a portrait of her on her death bed. Before her passing, the Monets went to live with Ernest and Alice Hoschede and their six children. Camille died 5 September 1879. After Camille’s death, Monet painted a grim set of paintings known as the Ice Drift series. He grew closer to Alice, and the two eventually became romantically involved. Ernest spent much of his time in Paris, and he and Alice never divorced. Monet and Alice moved with their respective children in 1883 to Giverny. After Ernest’s death, Monet and Alice married in 1892. In 1911, Alice died, plunging Monet into a deep depression. Monet became depressed after the death of his beloved Alice. In 1912, he developed cataracts in his right eye and was terrified of going blind. This wasn’t an entirely crazy thought, because no doubt he knew French “Impressionist” Edgar Degas who was completely blind by this stage. Monet was out of step with the avant-garde. The Impressionists were in some ways being supplanted by the Cubist movement, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Then, to compound his sorrows, in February 1914, his son Jean died at the age of forty-six.

He wrote to one friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” Despite his feelings of despair, he continued working on his paintings until his final days.

So, when it comes to Monet’s water lillies, their stillness masks Monet’s  battle with depression which manifested on and off throughout his life. Yet, perhaps you could say that through gardening, he didn’t let it possess him completely. That he was fighting back and the storm was retreating beneath the pond.

Indeed, I’m starting to think a bit of gardening might do me a bit of good.

What do you think? Have gardening helped you overcome difficult moods or depression and anxiety?

Unfortunately, as time’s gone by, I’ve evolved into more of a plant killer than a gardener, and if you recall the plot of Finding Nemo, I’m like that little girl who kills all her fish. Indeed, all the plants at our local nursery, are probably shaking in their pots hoping I’ll choose someone else.

I’m going to pop back shortly to write more about Monet’s huge Water Lilly commission by the French Government.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Further Reading

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/claude-monet-20160920-grk00i.html

http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/claude-monets-water-lilies