Garden Side. From Monet to Bonnard : Enter the Artists' Gardens

By Musée des impressionnismes Giverny

During the 1870s, the group of future Impressionists shifted their view from the city streets to the public parks and private gardens. This was influenced by both artistic and personal development. At the beginning of the 1880s, Monet, Pissarro, and Caillebotte left Paris one by one, heading to the greener suburbs.
Twenty years later, certain members of the Nabis group followed suit, moving away from the Parisian parks toward the intimacy of their private gardens. For Pierre Bonnard, the choice of settling in the Seine Valley, not far from Giverny, was an important step in his return to nature and in regaining a certain Impressionist touch in his work.

Pathway in Monet's Garden In Giverny (1902) by Claude MonetBelvedere

Just a stone's throw from the home of Claude Monet, the musée des impressionnismes Giverny provides the perfect setting for an exhibition on Impressionist and Nabis gardens. Monet took up residence in Giverny in 1883, in a house with a vast expanse of land that would allow him to finally create the garden of his dreams.

Map showing Giverny and C. Pissarro's house at Eragny-sur-EpteMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In April 1884, Camille Pissarro found his new home in the nearby commune of Éragny-sur-Epte. As its name indicates, the River Epte flows through the village and also passes through Giverny before emptying into the Seine. The railway line, which at the time traveled between Vernon and Gisors, made it easy for the two artists and friends to visit each other.

Soleil levant à Eragny (1894) by Camille PissarroMuMa - Musée d'art moderne André Malraux

Pissarro's house boasted a garden, where his wife Julie grew vegetables that provided food for the family's table. There was also a meadow that opened out onto the fields surrounding the village, where the painter enjoyed observing the countrymen at work. For Pissarro, these men represented the ideal life, in harmony with nature.

In this view of Éragny in the early hours of the morning, the silhouettes of women evoke this human activity that the painter held in such high esteem.

With the sun barely visible, the morning mist and the lingering frost covering the grass, this image gives the subtle impression that the landscape is floating. Pissarro went on to paint this landscape over the course of the thirty years he spent living in Éragny.

Thanks to a loan from his friend Monet, Pissarro was able to buy the house and its land in 1892. Now private property, the house still stands in Éragny, as does the bell of the Saint-Martin Church, which can be seen here on the right, above the rooftops.

Pissarro's Garden and the church tower of Eragny (1891) by Léo GaussonMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

This is the same church bell that can be seen in this painting by Léo Gausson, a friend of Pissarro and of his son, Lucien. A regular visitor to the Éragny house and its garden, he depicted it from a viewpoint that Pissarro would also go on to use.

The pointillist technique with separate colors is in line with neo-Impressionist principles, which Pissarro and Gausson would both come to adopt for several years.

Map showing Giverny, Eragny-sur-Epte, and Mirbeau's houseMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Monet and Pissarro were well-acquainted with Octave Mirbeau, a strong defender of Impressionist painting. From 1889 to 1893, Mirbeau lived in Les Damps, close to Pont-de-l’Arche, and not far from Éragny and Giverny.

Garden and henhouse at Octave Mirbeau's, Les Damps (1892) by Camille PissarroMuseum Barberini

He created a wonderful flower garden, which he invited Pissarro to paint in September 1892. "The garden is late, but the flowers are beginning to bloom," said Mirbeau. "I think it's going to be stunning though, and that you'll be able to create some admirable studies. You'll come with your entire painting kit, won't you? This way, you can immortalize my flowers!" This painting is one of four created by Pissarro on that occasion, and is skillfully composed.

In the foreground, there is a vast expanse of flowers …

… juxtaposing the vertical forms of the trees in the background.

Between the two, there is a path leading to the local buildings.

Pissarro's pointillist technique creates a shimmering expanse of colors from these flowered spaces. Everything appears to be in harmony.

Map showing Giverny and G. Caillebotte's house at the Petit-GennevilliersMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

At the same time, Gustave Caillebotte was also hard at work creating a garden. He settled on the banks of the Bay of Argenteuil, in Petit-Gennevilliers. In his case, it wasn't the Epte that connected his property to Monet's, but the Seine. For these two artists, the garden was part of an intimate and artistic horizon, and painting should resonate with nature.

Bed of Daisies (c.1893) by Gustave CaillebotteMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In Caillebotte's home in Petit-Gennevilliers, this ambition manifests in the form of decorative panels inspired by the flowers in his garden, intended for use in the home. The house and garden are no longer there today, but a months-long restoration process of the “Parterre de Marguerites” allows us to rediscover its full size and modernity, which demonstrates Caillebotte's original design.

If its original placement remains uncertain, its size suggests that it was used for decoration, covering the upper section of a wall, with a furniture-like element that would have masked the white rectangle left by the artist.

Framed by bindweed borders painted onto the canvas, the “Parterre de Marguerites” combines the decorative repetition of the wallpaper, with the free brushstroke of an Impressionist piece. These thriving flowers strewn across the canvas are also reminiscent of the patterns found in Japanese art, which fascinated Western artists at the time.

Restoring the panels lets us rediscover the hypnotic movement of their surfaces, animated by the winding arrangement of the flowers and the way the light plays on their petals.

In Giverny in 1893, Monet bought land tucked away between the railway that stretched past the end of his garden and the fields that extended up the Seine. Using water from the Epte, which flowed along the edges of this land, he was able to create a pond sown with water lilies and surrounded by willow trees.

Water lilies and willow tree branches (1916/1919) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

As World War I raged on, Monet undertook a series of large decorative compositions focusing on his water lily pond, including this work, which was recently donated to the museum by the Lycée Claude Monet. The Lycée had received it as a gift from Michel Monet, the artist's son. The harmony that emanates from this viewpoint gives an impression of immensity and loss of reference points.

The eye moves over the painted surface, drawn by the water lilies that create a gentle curve on the water's surface, under the curtain of the willow branches. The water and air blend together.

Monet was one of the last survivors of the Impressionist generation. Embarking on a new artistic adventure with his “Water Lilies” series, he rubbed shoulders with young artists, who cast an admiring yet challenging eye over the work of the Impressionists.

Map showing Giverny and Pierre Bonnard's house at VernonnetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Pierre Bonnard, one of the representatives of the Nabis group, bought a house just 3 miles (5 km) from Giverny in 1911: “Ma Roulotte”, in Vernonnet. Bonnard and Monet were soon paying regular visits to one another.

Claude Monet and Marthe Bonnard in the Dining Room at Giverny (1920) by Pierre BonnardMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In around 1920, Bonnard sketched this scene on the spot after lunch, where his partner Marthe and Claude Monet can be seen sitting at the Giverny dining table.

The Japanese prints from Monet's collection can be discerned from the others hanging on the wall.

The vegetation of the garden can also be seen on the other side of the window.

Bonnard's house was a very small dwelling. Located on a point overlooking the Seine Valley, the painter was enticed by the panoramic view that the house offered. The house's garden sloped down to the river, and thrived in a way that the painter never sought to hinder. The terrace, which was a balcony that stretched around the house and was protected by a latticework railing, can be spotted in many of the artist's paintings. Remaining private property for a long time, the house was recently purchased by the Commune of Vernon, which is preparing to open the property to the public.

The Seine at Vernon (1915) by Pierre BonnardMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Progressively distancing himself from the city at the start of the 20th century, the Parisian painter Bonnard was charmed by the green, rolling landscape of the Seine Valley. After experimenting during the Nabis years, where nature was subject to recompositions abolishing the illusion of space and immediacy in his work, Bonnard, immersed in new landscapes, revealed himself to be one of the heirs of Impressionism.

The multitude of colors, with intense yellow, deep blue, ochers and mauves which bathe the sky create a dusky tonal palette, give the impression of a captured moment, like a fleeting memory that has been frozen on the canvas.

However, unlike Monet, Bonnard didn't paint outdoors. In his workshop, he reformulated an observation he had previously made. This is certainly why the untamed garden, despite its impressionistic qualities, feel likes a recomposed moment.

The Garden (1945) by Pierre BonnardMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

The garden that Bonnard painted here, two years before his death, is that of the villa “Le Bosquet”, which sat in the heights of Le Cannet and which the painter bought in 1926. In this masterpiece, housed in the Musée de l'Abbaye in Saint-Claude, the painter's garden takes on the luxuriance of mythical places, such as the hanging gardens of Babylon. Bonnard transposed a reality that was certainly far more modest through a surreal bloom, creating dazzling light.

The layers, created from the same glistening material, appear to be bonded together, with no concern for depth. The eye runs from one mass to another without any reference points, "the eye bathes in the painting, rests in it, as if seized by a physiological affinity".

Pushed to its climax, the subtle retranscription becomes a subjectless painting, with no motif, "The main subject is the surface, which bears its color, its rules, above objects," wrote Bonnard. Using this concept of fusing the subject in color, the painter evokes the latest of Monet's “Water Lilies”.

Credits: Story

The exhibition "Côté jardin. De Monet à Bonnard", curated by Cyrille Sciama and Mathias Chivot, is presented at the musée des impressionnismes Giverny from May 19 to November 1, 2021.

The musée des impressionnismes Giverny warmly thanks :
Azize Atif, Anne Barz, Michel Cervoni, Clémence Ducroix, Annette Haudiquet, Brice et Nelly Jacq, Valérie Pugin.

Discover the exhibition catalogue, published by the musée des impressionnismes Giverny and the RMN : https://www.mdig.fr/boutique/catalogue-d-exposition-cote-jardin-de-monet-a-bonnard/

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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