A virtual visit to Monet’s house
On entering Monet’s house, imagine a home filled with the sounds of eight children, Claude Monet’s comings and goings between his studio and the garden, fruit and veg being brought into the kitchen fresh from the garden, people coming back from the market, and friends arriving from Paris.
The tour begins in Monet’s vivid yellow dining room – restored to precision – with its vast collection of Japanese prints on the walls. The furniture, also painted yellow, was considered very modern at the time. In the glass cabinets are displayed blue earthenware crockery, and the yellow and blue set requested by Monet for special occasions.
Then there’s the kitchen next door, with its blue Rouen tiles, impressive cooker with multiple ovens, and copper utensils on the walls, so pristine it’s almost like they’re waiting for their owners to come back and use them.
Back through the dining room, across the entrance hall and we’re in the ‘reading room’, or ‘blue sitting room’. This room connects to the pantry, where tea, olive oil, spices and eggs were stored.
We then enter Monet’s first studio, where he worked until 1899. This room later became a sitting room where coffee was served, furnished with English-style cane chairs and surrounded by photographs, personal items and paintings by Monet.
Just off the pantry, a staircase leads us up to the first floor where the bedrooms are. First is Monet’s bedroom, meticulously reproduced down to the last detail in 2013 by Hubert Le Gall. Artwork and other items from Monet’s day are displayed, including reproductions of paintings by his friends, Cézanne, Renoir, Signac and Caillebotte.
The tour continues through to the bedroom of Monet’s wife Alice, followed by that of Alice’s daughter Blanche, who married Monet’s son Jean and lived in the house until her death in 1947. Once more reproduced by Le Gall, Blanche’s room was opened to the public for the first time in 2014, and was inspired by the interior design of the time so as to recreate Blanche’s surroundings as accurately as possible.
A chat with head gardener Jean-Marie Avisard
The doors of the Fondation Claude Monet – more commonly known as Monet’s house and gardens – should have reopened to the public on 1 April, but have remained closed due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. We chat to head gardener Jean-Marie Avisard to find out how the gardens are faring…
Hello Jean-Marie, can you tell us how you have adapted your work under lockdown?
Hello! Well, we’re now making sure that we don’t all work too closely together, so we work at least a few metres away from one another. That said, sometimes we work up to fifty metres away from each other because the gardens are so large! All of our full-time gardeners are still here, but it is no longer possible for us to have volunteers or interns, so we have had to adapt. We’re making sure that everyone has his/her own space to work and is protected.
Has the lockdown affected your work at all?
It’s a bit of a challenge! Making orders is very complicated. Delivery companies are finding it hard to deliver goods, suppliers are finding it difficult to get goods to the wholesalers, some plants have to be substituted or simply can’t be delivered – we just have to adapt and deal with it. But it won’t affect the gardens too much – we always manage to make it work!
What treats do the gardens have in store for us in May?
The gardens have started blooming earlier than usual this year because we had a very mild winter, so we already have a lot of colours and flowers in the gardens! The daffodils came out very early, then all of the splendid pink tulips and forget-me-nots started coming out in front of the house. The central walkway of the Clos Normand is lined with tulips that are now all coming into bloom, while the cherry and plum trees by the house are in full bloom and the magnolias are already flowering. The new roses have now all been planted, so the rose garden this year won’t be as colourful, but it will look absolutely beautiful next year. We finished pruning all of the roses on the central walkway though and they are magnificent. Basically, spring has come earlier than last year when we had a bit of late frost. Hopefully the mild climate will continue!
What other flowers can we expect?
The wallflowers will blossom soon and lend even more colour to the garden. The first roses will then start to bloom. The Japanese peonies also have a lot of buds. I hope it will get cold again because they won’t like that! And then the first wave of early tulips will be followed by a wave of late tulips. We will have tulips until the middle of May.
What about the water garden?
The great news is that we have created a large lawn on the left when you come out the tunnel into the water garden – it really gives a feeling of space and airiness whereas it was a bit dark and stuffy before. The water garden is much the same as the Clos Normand – currently there are tulips, pansies and forget-me-nots in bloom, and the azaleas and wisteria have just begun to flower.
Is it busy in the greenhouses?
Yes, we have a team there currently planting out annuals and preparing all of the flowers that we’ll need from May onwards, for the second wave of planting.
What other tasks are you working on at the moment?
We are in the process of installing the sprinkler system because it’s getting dryer – this is a big job and takes a long time. We will also have to attach stakes to certain flowers like peonies. And then, of course, there’s a lot of weeding to be getting on with in the flowerbeds that we planted in winter just gone. In summary, lots of maintenance work!
You have been working tirelessly since November to get the gardens ready. How do you feel about not being able to show visitors the fruits of your labour?
It’s a bit frustrating because our aim is to show visitors what we’ve done so they can enjoy the most beautiful gardens possible! Obviously it’s not been for nothing, but it is a bit frustrating. It was particularly hard on 1 April, the day we should have reopened. When the tourist season ends, we do like having the gardens to ourselves again and working there in peace, but after a while, once the gardens are ready, we can't wait for the visitors to come back and enjoy them! We can’t wait to welcome the public back when it is safe to travel again.
Thank you very much Jean-Marie, we can’t wait either!