NEW YORK— The New York Botanical Garden, a vast 100-hectare park in the Bronx, is nowhere near France, of course. But through October 21, it is offering visitors a partial view of France’s most famous ornamental gardens, those cultivated by French impressionist painter Claude Monet for more than 40 years.
“I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers,” Monet once wrote. He repaid the debt in paintings shimmering with light and color. Many are of the flower and water gardens at his home in Giverny, in the northern French countryside.
Beginning last spring, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the New York Botanical Garden re-created a bit of Giverny's gardens that many know only from Monet’s paintings: from his rambling flower garden, to a Japanese-style water garden. “He really was this amazing gardener, and created these wonderful combinations of plants, and flowers - which are the highlight here at the New York Botanical Garden - are the inspiration for his paintings," says director of exhibitions Karen Daubmann,
The “grand allée,” entered through a replica of Monet’s house door, is a wild profusion of colors and shapes: dahlias, roses, daisies and dozens of others. Daubman notes that many of the same flowers do well in the Bronx.
"These are agapanthus," she said, pointing at lavender-colored globes of bell-like blossoms. "These are really important plants in Monet’s garden. He painted them. So, [we] knew that those are definitely something that needed to be included in the display here."
"Also the sunflowers, and you can see some roses in the background," she added. "Roses are a huge part of Monet's garden. He’s noted as having grown many, many different kinds of roses. So we have them trailing across the arches in the grand allée and other places in the garden.”
Monet, one of the founders of French impressionist painting, cultivated his gardens at Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926 at the age of 86. In addition to studying his paintings and the living gardens at Giverny, which are now one of France’s top tourist attractions, the show's designers pored over the archives, from the seed catalogs Monet bought, to his philosophy of gardening. Small signs throughout the grounds are posted with poems by French symbolist poets and quotations from Monet himself.
"This is my favorite quote here," Daubmann said, pointing to one: "‘My most beautiful work of art is my garden.'"
The show has been popular. On one of the hottest days of the summer, visitors said they were happy to be there - even outside, next to the water garden, where water lilies and lotuses bloomed under a blazing sun. “It’s exquisitely beautiful. I would rather be in Giverny than in the Bronx, but this is as close as I can get," said one vistor, Lexann Richter.
The show also includes Monet's palette, historical photographs and photographs of Giverny today by Elizabeth Murray. Two of his paintings are also on loan to the show, including one never shown in the U.S. before. Both are of irises, another of Monet’s favorite flowers.