Two years later, after participating in FSU’s Paris Art & Culture program, I’m back in Giverny as a “bénévole” or volunteer. Sometime during my first trip to Giverny I heard that people from all across the world could work in the gardens during the summer months. During my graduating fall semester I wanted to figure out a way to somehow go abroad and work in a place that was still related to art/art history. I contacted the Claude Monet Foundation, filled out the application and within a few days of graduation I received an email asking if I would be able to work for the month of June. You can imagine as a recent graduate…I was ecstatic!
I’ve been here for a little over two weeks and it’s definitely different being an employee rather than the tourist. Every day I work in the gardens for six hours ending by 3:30pm leaving the rest of the day to explore Giverny or the nearby town of Vernon. Even though I am just tending the gardens, I have learned (especially from the head gardener) about how the colors are supposed to be emitted just as in Monet’s painting. Since being here I have learned that Monet was an avid gardener, always collecting plants and flowers from all across the world (especially the Orient). His inspiration came from Japanese prints that he was collecting and created a garden that he would boast about in letters to friends, inviting only selected people to come and witness for themselves. The program director, Jan Huntley, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the house and studio with in-depth information. The house contains the original prints that Monet gained inspiration from as well as Monet’s first studio. The studio is now displayed as a gallery for the works he would have had displayed based on old photographs. Eventually Monet created another studio (now the foundation director’s office) which was more suitable for his painting with a north facing window allowing the right amount of light to enter. Since that studio is an office, the general public misses that aspect of Monet’s artistic practice.
Another perk working here is being able to have access to the gardens after hours….a dream come true to paint and have the gardens all to yourself! The gardens allow local or visiting artists to paint from 6-7pm for a small fee, right after that time is when the light lowers and the colors in the gardens really pop. In essence, only the workers really see the same lighting conditions that Monet would have painted in which truly makes this experience even more special. It almost feels as if I am in one of his paintings…especially the water lilies. There’s a source of peace being able to sit in the pond that (ironically) make you reflect on yourself…the same feeling or contemplation, I believe, you get when looking at his Nymphéas paintings.
Since starting here, I also get a feel of the French countryside and way of life as compared to my previous experience in the city. Giverny mostly caters to its inhabitants leaving this small town a desolate place to roam the streets once the visitors have left. The closest town, Vernon, is only three miles away enabling myself (along with the other volunteers) to feel less guilty to walk into town and by a couple of fresh baguettes…or pastries! Although I am not fluent in French (which would have been an asset) I have been able to meet people from all across the world who come to see the gardens. Not many people know but the foundation also houses an artist residency every summer where up-and-coming and established artists have the opportunity to use the gardens as an inspiration for a body of work. The different mediums and styles that have come through here have really shown me the range of influence there can be for an artist. Overall, working in France has really opened up my eyes to the vastness of knowledge and information about Monet and Impressionism as well as the extensive cultural immersion you can get. Reflecting back…my first visit was about the first time experience and excitement, now it’s more about the feel of the space and atmosphere of Monet’s home; a unifying quality with the artist that makes this experience truly unforgettable.