Monet was brought up in Normandy and, like many of the Impressionists, was captivated by the soft light of the Seine Valley. After several years in Argenteuil, just north of Paris, he moved downriver to Giverny in 1883 along with his two sons, his mistress, Alice Hoschedé (whom he later married), and her six children. By 1890 a prospering Monet was able to buy this pretty maison—now a museum—outright. With pink walls and green shutters, it has a warm, homey
feel that may come as a welcome change after the stateliness of the French châteaux. Rooms have been returned to Monet's original designs: witness the kitchen with its blue tiles, the buttercup-yellow dining room, and Monet's bedroom on the second floor. The house was fully restored only in the 1970s, thanks to the millions contributed by fans and patrons (who were often Americans). Reproductions of the painter's works, and some of the Japanese prints he avidly collected, crowd its walls. During his era, French culture had come under the spell of Orientalism, and these framed prints were often gifts from visiting Japanese diplomats whom Monet had befriended in Paris.
Three years after buying his house and cultivating its garden—which the family called the "Clos Normand"—Monet purchased another plot of land across the lane to continue his gardening experiments, even diverting the Epte to make a pond. The resulting garden à la japonaise (reached through a tunnel from the "Clos"), with flowers spilling out across the paths, contains the famous "tea-garden" bridge and water-lily pond, flanked by a mighty willow and rhododendrons. Images of the bridge and the water lilies—in French, nymphéas—in various seasons appear in much of Monet's later work. Looking across the pond, it's easy to conjure up the grizzled, bearded painter dabbing at his canvases—capturing changes in light and pioneering a breakdown in form that was to have a major influence on 20th-century art.
The garden—planted with nearly 100,000 annuals and even more perennials—is a place of wonder. No matter that about 500,000 visitors troop through each year; they seem to fade in the presence of beautiful roses, carnations, lady's slipper, tulips, irises, hollyhocks, poppies, daises, nasturtiums, larkspur, azaleas, and more. With that said, it still helps to visit midweek when crowds are thinner. If you want to pay your respects to the original gardener, Monet is buried in the family vault in Giverny's village church. Although the gardens overall are most beautiful in spring, the water lilies bloom during the latter part of July and the first two weeks of August.