Pont dans le jardin de Monet is a work of exceptional beauty and historical significance. Although subsequently dated by the artist "1900", both Daniel Wildenstein and Paul Hayes Tucker agree that it was in fact painted in 1895. It is thus one of the earliest works Monet made of his garden at Giverny and possibly the first.
Monet moved to Giverny in 1883 when it was a small town of a mere 279 inhabitants. Initially he rented a house there, but when the opportunity arose in 1890, he bought the property for 22,000 francs, "certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside," as he wrote to his friend and dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Upon purchasing the house, Monet immediately began tearing up its grounds in order to replace the kitchen garden with a flower garden. All his life, Monet had been a passionate gardener, but never before had he enjoyed the means to fulfill this passion completely. In 1893, when the adjacent property went up for sale, Monet immediately purchased it and applied to the local government "to install a prise d'eau in order to provide enough water to refresh the pond that I am going to dig on the land that I own, for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants." Although his plans involved diverting water from the Seine--and despite initial resistance from the other residents of Giverny--construction went quickly, and by the fall Monet had converted nearly 1,000 square meters into a lily-pond ringed by a variety of flowers, trees and bushes. He continued to improve and add to the garden throughout the rest of his life, especially in the expansions of 1901 and 1910. Monet thought of his water garden as eastern in character, in contrast to the more traditional, western flower garden by the house. He accented the eastern character of the water garden by building a foot bridge in Japanese style, and by planting bamboo, ginkgo trees, and Japanese fruit trees around the pond. Monet was partly inspired by Japanese prints (fig. 1), but above all, he wanted the oriental character of the bridge to add to the impression that the garden was exotic, timeless, otherworldly.
Indeed, the serene beauty of the water garden had a magical quality; to enter the garden was to enter another world. As one visitor reported in 1901:
"This is the famous water-lily garden, with its little green Japanese bridge spanning the ornamental lake surrounded by willows and other trees, either fancifully shaped or rare. When the sunlight plays upon the waters, it resembles--damascened as it is with the water lilies' great round leaves, and encrusted with the precious stones of their flowers--the masterwork of a goldsmith who has melded alloys of the most magical metals" (quoted in C. Stuckey, Monet, A Retrospective, New York, 1985, pp. 221-222).
And another visitor said,
"You enter the aquatic garden over an arched bridge covered with wisteria in June--the fragrance is so heavy that it is like going through a pipe of vanilla. The clusters of white and mauve . . . fall like fanciful grapes in the water, and the passing breeze harvests the aroma" (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1988, p. 213).
Monet created this garden in part to be a subject for painting. Indeed, in his building application to the town authorities, he stated that he wanted to grow aquatic plants that would provide "something agreeable and for the pleasure of the eyes and for the purpose of having subjects to paint" (quoted in P. Tucker, op. cit., p. 16).
Furthermore, as John Rewald has noted:
"The colors of the floating lilies, the sprouts of the bamboo, the undulations of the willow branches were his to determine, so that they could present him with the pictorial elements he desired. Indeed, the waterlily pond was built especially to provide Monet with an endless series of subjects which, with all but obsessional single-mindedness, he devoted the rest of his life" (J. Rewald, The Gardens at Giverny, New York, 1983, pp. 9-10).
Nevertheless, Monet waited almost two full years after installing the garden to begin painting there. Scholars have speculated why Monet waited. Paul Hayes Tucker has suggested that Monet "may have wanted to wait for the gardens to become as lush as possible, or perhaps he was considering less traditional ways of painting them" (P. Tucker, op. cit., p. 18). Tucker has also suggested that Monet was simply too immersed in his other series paintings in the 1890s to take up Giverny as the principal subject of his art.
According to Daniel Wildenstein's catalogue raisonn, Monet made three pictures in his garden in 1895. One of these represents a woman standing on the path behind his house (W. 1420), and the other two, the present work and Le pont japonais, Giverny (W. 1419), represent the bridge. These two pictures are very similar in vantage-point, dimensions, and time of day and year. He did not depict the bridge again until 1899, when he made a dozen paintings of this subject; and from 1899 until the end of his life, it was a major theme in his oeuvre, featured in more than twenty canvases.
Writing of the series from the 1890s, Paul Hayes Tucker has said that Monet was "attempting to suggest in these Japanese Bridge paintings the existence of a hybrid environment, a place where East becomes West through the powers of French culture and where nature become art through the tenacity of an Impressionist's vision" (P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 90s, exh. cat., Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1989, p. 265).
(fig. 1) Utagawa Hiroshige, Wisteria, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
(fig. 2) Monet in his garden, summer 1926.
(fig. 3) Monet by the foot of the Japanese Bridge over the lilypond, circa 1923.
Pont dans le jardin de Monet
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 1900' (lower left)
Vienna, Galerie Arnot, Franzsische Impressionisten, 1911,
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Ausstellung Franzsischer Kunst, February-March 1913, p. 28, no. 165 (as Brke im Garten des Knstlers).
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Claude Monet: Nymphas, Impression Vision, July-October 1986, p. 171, no. 2 (illustrated in color, p. 19).
36 x 34 in. (92 x 89 cm.)
L. Venturi, Les archives de l'Impressionnisme, Paris and New York, 1939, vol. I, p. 429.
D. Rouart, J.-D. Rey and R. Maillard, Monet "Nymphas," Paris, 1972, p. 154 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonn, Lausanne, 1979, vol. II (Peintures: 1882-1886), p. 194, pice justificative, no. 101.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonn, Lausanne, 1979, vol. III (Peintures: 1887-1898), p. 192, no. 1419bis (illustrated, p. 193).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonn, Lausanne, 1985, vol. IV (Peintures: 1899-1926), p. 385, letter no. 1984.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonn, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V (Supplment aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index), p. 50, no. 1419bis.
M. Alphant, Claude Monet, une vie dans le paysage, Paris, 1993, p. 576.
S.Z. Levine, Monet, Narcissus, and Self-Reflection, The Modernist Myth of the Self, Chicago, 1994, p. 129, fig. 70 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonn, Cologne, 1996, vol. III (Nos. 969-1595), p. 588, no. 1419a (illustrated in color, p. 587).
P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., London, Royal Academy of Art, and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, September 1997-April 1999, p. 18 (illustrated in color, fig. 17).
Paul Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist, October 1911).
P. Esterez (1913).
Arthur Kauffmann, London (1947).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 December 1984, lot 8.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 11 May 1987, lot 48.