Chasing Claude Monet: Giverny and the art of living
The gardens at Giverny
Having visited Giverny, the home of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, several years ago, I was struck by the fact that nothing resembles a formal French garden less than Giverny's glorious, flurry of flowers, water, and greenery. Upon seeing it for the first time, it literally took my breath away.
I love flowers and I love color, especially blue:
a color which the impressionists used in abundance. There are overgrown
beds of colorful perrennials, roses, peonies and red poppies; exquisite blue iris, foxglove and lupine, also ornamental apple and cherry trees. But the highlight of these amazing gardens is the water lilly pond, which Monet painted many times over.
Giverny sits on the "right Bank" of the River Seine. The village lies 50 miles from Paris west and slightly north. Grape growing is one of the primary activities in the area and the wines are supurb. The village, itself, dates back to the Middle Ages, and is dotted with tiny churches built partially in the Romanesque style. It has remained a small rural setting with a modest population, numbering around 300 in 1883 when Monet discovered it. It has since seen a boom in tourism since the restoration of Monet's house and gardens
Flashback to trip
We landed in Paris and were swept away in a small Citroen to our modest guesthouse. We had taken the Eurorail overnight from Venice and were exhausted after the long 13 hour ride. But we had booked a double private cabin. And, although it was rather expensive, we were glad we did. At least we would get a little sleep and a croissant and coffee upon waking. I really don't like trains much, or boats, or planes because the movement make me nauseated. But, Carol, my best friend ever since we met teaching in the public high schools of Chicago, loves them. She was still sleeping by the time I had finished my croissant and the train pulled into the Gare de Lyon in the center of Paris.
We decided to stay in Paris only a couple of nights, as both of us had spent quite a bit of time there before and we were anxious to get to Giverny, and then off to the south. We were art enthusiasts and especially liked the impressionists. We loved visiting the places in France where they hung out in the late 1800s. After Monet moved to Giverny, he entertained many artist friends, including Sisly, Manet, Cezanne, Millet, Degas and Berthe Morisot. He also befriended many American artists as well, including Mary Cassett. Most, of course, were Impressionists.
Monet discovered Giverny while taking the train to the countryside one weekend. Viewing it out of the window as he traveled along, he decided it would be the perfect retreat to paint, and live the kind of life, close to nature, he had always envisioned. It was here that he developed his own unique art of living and his ideas about food, which should be beautifully prepared, using whatever foods were available from the earth. He used recipes from favorite restaurants, friends, writers, painters , and actors and developed some of his own.
The house at Giverny
In keeping with Monet's love for combining varying colors, the rough cast exterior of the house is painted a dark pinkish color, and the shutters, the balcony, and the stairs leading to the front door, a Veronese green.
The interior of the house being as colorful as the exterior, the dining room is painted a bright chrome yellow, the sitting room a medium shade of blue, and the drawing room mauve.
In the kitchen are varying shades of blue, from cobalt to white, with blue and white french tiles on the walls behind the stove, the sink, and half up the remaining two. The top half is painted green.
The kitchen floor is covered with large Burnt Sienna tiles. All of the hues were created by Monet and remain true to the originals.
A gastronomical feast
Besides his fondness for color, Monet was definitely enthusiastic about food and preferred to grow everything the family ate in his own gardens and farmland. The two and a half acre kitchen-garden was a work of art. There were fruit trees and herbs and vegetables of every kind imaginable. He even grew his own turkeys and raised his own ducks and chickens. He was fanatical about the poultry served at the table. His entire estate was carefully planned out and maintained.
His lust for haute cuisine was obvious in the recipes he left behind after his death. Eveyrthing from rich pates and sauces, to mandarine duck, to homemade ice cream was created in his kitchen; all freshly picked, killed, or churned.
Monet's Favorite recipes
Soupe au poireaux et pomme de terre
(Leek and Potato Soup)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
5 or 6 leeks, white parts only, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 teaspoon salt
4 large potatoes
Heat 1/4 cup of the butter in a pan and saute the leeks
While they are cooking, heat 1 quart water
with salt to just under a boil.
Add water to leeks. Cover pan, reduce heat and simmer
45 minutes. Add potato slices, cover, and continue
cooking for 20 more minutes.
Add the rest of the butter before serving
*note: If I were making this soup, I would use skim milk, instead of water
Pain de Genes
1/2 cup salted butter
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 1/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons Kirsch
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
1 cup slivered almonds
Grease a shallow 8-inch cake pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter in a bowl and beat in sugar,
beating until creamy. Continue beating
while incorporating the eggs, one at a time,
beating well after each addition.
Beat in the ground almonds with the kirsch.
Finally add flour and beat well.
Pour into prepared pan and bake 40 minutes.
or until golden. If desired, sprinkle with
sifted confectioner's sugar and top with