garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
An exhibition of Monet’s work opened this week at the Grand Palais. It is the first retrospective of his paintings for around 30 years in Paris, where he remains resolutely unfashionable.
His gardens at Giverny, in Normandy, are a major tourist destination. We visited last year and found the little town packed with visitors, all coming to view something which, in a way, they had already seen.
His paintings of the bassin de nymphéas (the waterlily pond) are so well-known, so replicated on greetings cards and posters and place-mats, that we are all familiar with them, even those who have never seen any of the 250 or so paintings themselves.
Emerging from the dark tunnel that links Monet’s house and its charming Clos Normand garden with the later Japanese-style water gardens, visitors feel a growing sense of anticipation on approaching the pond. It is a pre-formed memory; we know what is coming, even though it is new to us.
The water gardens, with their wooden bridges and weeping willows, are actually a late twentieth century recreation of Monet’s original design, which virtually disappeared through lack of funds and neglect after his death. But, when we see the pond, we still experience a rush of recognition and familiarity. Most of the photographs I took suggested that I was the only one gazing at this famous garden; in truth of course, I was just one of the 400,000 visitors who pour through the site each year, seeking those familiar views.