When you join the throng trekking through Monet’s house and garden at Giverny, spare a thought for how he inspired American artists.
Monet moved to Giverny in 1883 and soon other painters, especially American Impressionists, came to live near him, forming a hive of artistic industry in this tiny Normandy village about 90km (55 miles) from Paris.
Among the American painters who moved here were John Singer Sargent, Theodore Earl Butler (who married Monet’s step-daughter), Dawson Dawson-Watson, Frederick Carl Frieseke and the proprietor and students of Miss Wheeler’s School from Rhode Island.
Some stayed at Le Hameau (still used for visiting American artists), others at the former Hotel Baudy, which at the end of the 19th century was the main meeting place for young American artists. Other historic places you can see on a short stroll around Giverny are the Maison Rose where the dancer Isadora Duncan once lived, and Chemin Blanche Hoschedé-Monet, where the American artist Theodore Robinson painted the wedding procession of Monet’s step-daughter in 1892.
The elegant modern building that today is the Musée des Impressionnismes grew out of an earlier endeavour called the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, which was set up by Daniel J. Terra in 1992. The Terra Foundation remains a artistic powerhouse, organising exhibitions of American art and supporting American artists.
The current exhibition at the Musée des Impressionismes in Giverny is Bonnard in Normandy (until 3 July 2011), a well-edited selection of the paintings of the French Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard, plus letters and lots of photographs of him with Monet and the other painters of Giverny. Bonnard was not such an early adopter of the delights of the area as the American artists. He moved to a half-timbered maison à colombages at Vernnonet, just 5km (3 miles) away from Giverny in 1911, with his wife and his little dog Ubu. It’s good to have a chance to see some paintings of real quality on a visit to Giverny, since the paintings in Monet’s house are copies and the pictures on sale in the commercial galleries nearby are nothing special.
Giftshop gems: Such a well-designed museum must have a tasteful giftshop – and it does. I was hard put to find anything tacky at all. Most of the goods on show are Monet-related, such as the Waterlily paper serviettes (6 euros) and there’s an excellent selection of desirable artbooks.
Getting there: Musée des Impressionnismes, 99 rue Claude Monet, Giverny, 27620 (a short walk from Monet’s house and garden).
The exhibition Bonnard in Normandy is open daily until 3 July 2011, 10.00-18.00, 6.50 euros. Combined tickets with Monet’s house and garden and other local museums are available.
The train takes about 45 minutes from Paris Gare Saint-Lazare to Vernon. Then shuttlebus Vernon-Giverny, 4 euros each way.