Fish Stories

August 30, 2008

Where there is a bubble, there is a fish.

Many fish live in Monet’s lake at Giverny. They help keeping its balance.

There are many rudd, easy to recognize because of their orange fins, and carp.

The carp are not Koi carp, they are  wild ones. They come from the Seine river.

A few years ago there was a flood. It was like paradise for carp, they went wandering in an almost endless lake.

Unfortunately for the carp, the water receded, and they were trapped in puddles. They would have died, but the gardeners of Giverny saved them with big garbage cans.

They released them in the pond. Since this day they have been doing well. Now they are big carp and likely to become very old.

And there are also pike in the pond. Several ones, but one is especially big and especially nasty.

Two years ago, a couple of moor hens had made their nest on the island in the middle of the pond. When they had their chicks, seven sweet little chicks, they brought them on the pond to teach them how to swim. Then this greedy pike ate them all one by one.


August 28, 2008

The main alley of Monet’s garden at Giverny is invaded by nasturtiums.

Monet planted them this way, but originally, it was not on purpose.

Monet wanted to soften the straight lines of his alley by an edge of small flowers, and he planted what he thought were dwarf nasturtiums. Which appeared to be… rambling ones, and they started to creep over the gravel.

Monet liked this effect, then he repeated it intentionally every year.

It is a talent to know how to use one’s own mistakes.

Tamed Horses

August 22, 2008

This group feturing a man taming horses can be seen in Vernon’s A. G. Poulain Museum, in the center of the town neighbouring Giverny.

The sculpture is due to Frederick MacMonnies, an American artist who lived and taught for several years in Giverny at the turn of the 20th century.

The man is on a smaller scale than the horses to make them look wilder, and to show the superiority of the spirit over the animal.

Giant Flowers

August 16, 2008

August is one of the best time to visit Monet’s gardens at Giverny.

The pond is covered by water lilies. The nasturtiums invade dramatically the main alley. And all the summer flowers give their big show.

Late summer is the time for giant flowers. Sunflowers of course, and also giant dahlias, rudbeckias, cosmos or helianthus as thick as walls of flowers. It is a strange feeling to be towered by these tall flowers. Anybody, even basketball players, could play hide and seek in Monet’s garden without bending his head.

This bee is rushing to visit a balsam, a sort of Impatiens which also belongs to this army of giants.


August 8, 2008

The sunshine creates rays of light through the mist produced by the watering device in Monet’s garden.

In the summertime most flowers need a lot of water to remain beautiful.

In Monet’s gardens at Giverny the sprinklers are on duty early in the morning and in the evening, to save water and to avoid that visitors get wet, of course.

Roofs of Vernon

August 3, 2008

A view of the town of Vernon, three miles from Giverny, seen from the top of the Archives Tower.

On the right the church is Vernon’s collegiate church dedicated to our Lady. It hides the houses of Giverny on the other bank of the Seine river.

Although Vernon was severely damaged by bombings during the last world war, this part of the town remains untouched.  Slated or tiled roofs top small town houses piled up along narrow streets. Some of them still exhibit their half timbered walls typical of Normandy.

The houses in the foreground are as old as the keep of the castle on which I was standing, they date back to the 13th century.

Grandes Decorations

July 21, 2008

When Claude Monet was 70 he conceived a crazy project: huge panels featuring his pond to be glued on the walls of a big oval room.

Somebody standing in the middle of this room would be surrounded by his relaxing work.

It took him ten years to achieve his aim. He had to build a new studio for these over-sized paintings, he became almost blind because of cataract, but he managed to paint 91meter long canvases (almost 300 feet long). They are two meter high, as high as Monet could paint when he stood. Two rooms were eventually necessary to accommodate them.

The Grandes Decorations can be seen in l’Orangerie Museum in Paris on the Place de la Concorde, opposite to Musée d’Orsay. They won’t travel ever, they cannot be dismounted. The museum has just been renovated for six years and these extremely valuable paintings didn’t move while the ceiling of their rooms were opened and transformed.

A last amazing detail about these amazing murals: Monet donated them to the French state to celebrate the victory of 1918. He donated a ten year work!

Modern Flower

July 16, 2008

At Monet’s time, only white water lilies grew wild in France.

They were hardy flowers, able to stand cold and frost, whereas pink or yellow water lilies were of exotic origin and needed a warm greenhouse to spend the winter.

When Monet created his water garden at Giverny and imagined a pond with floating islands of colorful nympheas, these flowers where very modern.

By the end of the nineteen century a man called Bory Latour-Marliac had the idea of cross fertilizing hardy white water lilies with exotic ones. He was successful and obtained a full palette of hardy waterlilies. In 1889, the year of the Eiffel tower, Latour-Marliac exhibited his new creations at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where Monet saw them. Four years before he had his pond dug he conceived the idea of it by seeing the beautiful water flowers.

Would Latour-Marliac not have created  his flowers, Monet would probably not have painted his Nympheas masterpieces.

Flaming border

July 12, 2008

In Monet’s garden at Giverny, yellow and red flowers unite their flame-like radiant colors.

This effect is obtained by mixing yellow flowers, especially liliums and spotted-loosestrifes with delicate red  crocosmias.

Croscosmias leaves have also translucent qualities enhanced by the morning sunshine.

The best tailors

July 8, 2008

When he didn’t paint, Monet liked to be well dressed.

Look at him standing in the main alley of his garden at Giverny. Monet did his best to look elegant. I am not sure he always achieved this target, for he had a funny and complicated way of dressing. He liked round shaped jackets, as a result he looked a bit like a big insect.

Anyway, Monet went to the best tailors in Paris and ordered expensive suits, even when he was short of money. He just didn’t pay for the bills… I was told the English aristocrats didn’t either in the 19th century. Obviously, Monet’s tailors were not enthralled and the painter would get into troubles, of course.

Poetic Job

June 29, 2008

In his water garden at Giverny, Claude Monet had a dock adornated by arches of climbing roses.

It is especially beautiful in late June when the roses are in blossom, adding their pink to the greens of the foliages.
At Monet’s time there was a boat anchored at the dock. It was used mainly by the gardener devoted to the water garden.

This gardener had a special job: every morning he had to wash the water lilies. The road nearby made them dusty, Monet who wanted to paint them, wanted them to be clean.

The gardener used to get up very early in the morning, before the master would come, and tour the pond in the boat to push the flowers under the surface with the row to clean them.

Water lily washer, isn’t it a poetic job?

Seine Valley

June 27, 2008

Giverny lies in the Seine Valley. In geological times the river dug its valley in the tender limestone.

Now there are cliffs or steep hills on both sides of the river. When the hill faces north, it is covered by woods. When it is well oriented it used to be cultivated when Monet lived in Giverny, 100 years ago.

There were vineyards on the hills. Normandy is not a good place where to grow grapes, but our ancestors tried and made a wine which ranged between ‘almost not drinkable’ generally to ‘not too bad’ the best years.

It is not possible to judge, for it is not possible to taste it anymore. Even the eldest inhabitants of Giverny won’t tell, the vineyards disappeared before World War One. I don’t think anybody really regrets them.

To be an ant

June 22, 2008

Sometimes when I watch flowers in Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny, I wonder what it can be like to be an ant.

It must be incredible to be able to walk in or on a flower, among these petals that look like candy.

Does an ant feel vertigo?

At the same time distances are so, so long when you are so tiny. And so many decisions have to be made all the time. Will this ant go on this way or go back to find another path?

The Archives tower at Vernon

June 18, 2008

Only three miles from Giverny, the town of Vernon is worth a visit.

This tower is the keep of the castle built in the 12th century by the French king Philip Augustus.

At this time Vernon was on the border with the kingdom of England. Strongholds were built on each side of the border materialised by a stream called the Epte.

The keep of Vernon was used during the 19th Century to store the town archives.

Now it is just a landmark of the town. It dominates a charming public garden called ‘jardin des Arts’, garden of the arts.

In Memoriam

June 15, 2008

The island bed located just under Monet’s windows at Giverny has a special meaning.

It doesn’t obey the rules Monet applied elsewhere in the garden to compose the flower beds. In fact, Monet didn’t create this one. It is a copy of an island bed he had seen and liked at his aunt Jeanne Lecadre.

Claude Monet painted the garden of his aunt several times when he was 26. On the canvases the same roses in trees and pink geraniums surrounded by dianthus can be seen, but they were painted at his aunt in Sainte Adresse, not in Giverny.

Monet copied this island bed to remember his youth and his aunt. She meant a lot to him, she encouraged him to become a painter.