I was always enchanted by Claude Monet’s work. His paintings of water lilies were misty and mysterious, and drew me into a dreamy place where I loved to be as a child. He captivated me with his color choices and brush strokes. How could a painting that looked so haphazard up close become so clear and gorgeous when you stand 5 feet away?
To me, Monet was a bit of a magician.
Because I grew up near Chicago, I got to know the artist, his work and his famous water lilies at the Art Institute of Chicago. I spent hours gazing at large canvases, mesmerized by how I could transport myself into the landscape and disappear into the color.
I read about Monet’s work and his style. It is said that he didn’t use black in his paintings. As an artist, I would spend years trying to capture the rich depth of color that he accomplished, without using black. It’s difficult.
His art has been mesmerizing people like me for centuries. It was revolutionary in the late 1800s. His style was thought to be too loose and incomplete to fit in with the realistic images audiences were used to. He was key to the controversial Impressionist movement along with his colleagues like Manet, Cezanne, Pissaro and Degas.
During his career, Monet built a world of gardens, lily ponds, bridges and beauty in Giverny, France, about 90 minutes west of Paris.
He spent the latter years of his life expanding and building on the property, living and painting in the landscape.
I have collected books on Monet and sought out his works in any city I visited. But it was always a dream to visit Giverny. I wanted to breathe the air that he captured in the atmosphere of his paintings, to see what inspired him, and visit his home nestled right in the middle of this iconic property where he lived.
Imagine my surprise one Christmas when a loved one gave me the gift of a summer painting workshop in Giverny. Seven days living in Giverny, steps away from Monet’s estate. A small group of other artists and I would stay in a neighboring lodge, but have access to paint in his gardens. I was elated.
After three days in Paris, I boarded a train at the famous Saint-Lazare Station that Monet captured in his painting by the same name. An hour and a half later I was in Giverny.
The 8 other artists in the workshop and I enjoyed three meals a day prepared by local Normandy chefs. Lunch and dinner were accompanied by local wines.
The lodge had a studio where we could paint 24 hours a day. Our host, an artist and teacher, led some workshops on Monet’s methods.
We painted in Monet’s garden each night after 5 p.m. when the gates closed to the public.
The vast property includes two gardens: the flower garden near his home and the water garden across the road that you access through a tunnel.
Our small group had the ability to roam and paint anything we wanted while the magical golden dusk light gave us the misty background so famous in Monet’s work. We also had the gardens to ourselves all day Monday when it was closed. This option, however, is no longer available to workshops. Instead, guests now have private access to the gardens before it opens, to capture morning light.
Monet designed the gardens planting flowers according to color. Rows upon rows of both familiar and unusual flowers are woven with fruit trees and other greenery. Green benches dot the landscape.
We walked across the pale green Japanese bridge so familiar in Monet’s paintings and looked down on lilies dancing in the sunlight.
Monet’s home, which is open to the public, offers extensive views of the gardens through open windows. I was amazed by the dining room, which is all yellow. Everything is yellow, from the walls to the fireplace to the cabinets to the dining table and chairs.
The amount of time we had in the gardens was enough to complete several paintings and drawings, and to start some that could be finished either in the lodge studio or back in the United States. Photography is encouraged, and I left with images for later reference. I brought home about eight artworks and some are seen here.
In the small town of Giverny, you can find antique shops, art galleries and cafes.
I especially liked Restaurant Baudy. It was the home and studio for many visiting artists who came to Giverny during Monet’s time trying their hand at impressionist art and wanting to meet the artist. It has kept its old-world charm and has some great local dishes and wines. Like most of the cafes, you can dine inside or out.
We visited the small town of Vernon and shopped local markets for handmade clothes and baked goods, topping it off with real hot chocolate at a patisserie. It was like drinking an extremely rich melted chocolate bar with thick whipped buttery cream on top.
We were taken to many outlying areas and small cities where we could paint. One day we took the train to Paris and visited the Musée de l’Orangerie. Its main features are Monet’s paintings of water lilies, Nymphéas. Located in two oval-shaped rooms, the multiple paintings wrap around the walls, creating a panoramic scene. I felt like I was standing in the middle of the famous Giverny pond. It is breathtaking. According to the l’Orangerie Museum website, Monet said he was trying to create an “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore.”
I returned home with a portfolio loaded with sketches and paintings, some finished, some not. I still look at the hundreds of photos I took, take out my pastels and oils and paint, recapturing those moments in Monet’s gardens.
IF YOU GO: Art Colony Giverny
Director: Caroline Nuckolls,
Cost: Seven-day workshop, $3,500
Cost includes: Lodging, seven breakfasts, four lunches and dinners prepared by a Normandy chef
Wine: Local wines served with lunch and dinner
Availability: Offered three times a year
in May, June and September.
Lodging: Moulin de Chennevieres
Side trips to local villages and
a studio boat for sketching
while floating down the Seine.
Published in BAY magazine, August, 2016. Tampa Bay Times.