Although the garden was a favored subject for many of the Impressionists, including Manet, Renoir, and Caillebotte, no artist rivaled Monet in his dedication to the theme. The scholar Robert Herbert has written, "Of all the Impressionists it was Monet who was chiefly responsible for elevating the garden to the ranks of the most admired and influential paintings of the early modern era" (Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, New Haven, 1988, p. 259). The artist especially liked to paint his own gardens, first at Argenteuil (fig. 1), then at Vétheuil, and finally at Giverny, where the garden became his pre-eminent subject. During the last two decades of his life, Monet painted around three hundred views of the grounds at Giverny, which have been widely hailed as landmarks of late Impressionism. Paul Tucker has commented, "These paintings stand as eloquent witness to an aging artist's irrepressible urge to express his feelings in front of nature and also attest to his persistent desire to reinvent the look of landscape art and to leave a legacy of significance" (Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., op. cit., p. 14).
The artist and his family moved to Giverny in April 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny was a picturesque farming community of just two hundred and seventy-nine residents. Upon his arrival there, Monet rented a large, pink stucco house on two acres of land. When the property came up for sale in 1890, Monet purchased it at the asking price of 22,000 francs, "certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside," as he wrote to Durand-Ruel (W. 1079). An enthusiastic gardener all his life, Monet immediately began tearing up the existing kitchen garden and planting lush flower beds on the gentle slope in front of the house (fig. 2). Three years later, he acquired an adjacent plot of land and applied to the local government for permission "to install a prise d'eau in order to provide enough water to refresh the pond that I am going to dig for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants" (Wildenstein no. 1191). By the autumn of 1893, Monet had converted nearly one thousand square meters into a lavish lily pond, spanned by a wooden footbridge and ringed by an artful arrangement of flowers, trees, and bushes.
The flower garden at Giverny was a classic French country garden. Dozens of beds were laid out at right angles to either side of a wide, graveled walk, filled with a spectrum of flowers that bloomed from early spring to late fall in carefully orchestrated displays of color. There were bowers of roses, arches of clematis, bold masses of poppies and peonies, supple stems of lily and foxglove, and spreading mats of nasturtium and pink saxifrage. Describing a visit to Giverny, the critic Arsène Alexandre wrote, "Suddenly a new and extraordinary pageant greets us with the unexpectedness of all great surprises. Imagine every color of a palette, all the tones of a fanfare. This is Monet's garden. Though the effect from the outside is dazzling enough, the sensation on entering is even more intense. There is no rest for the flowers of the garden at Giverny. Everywhere you turn, at your feet, over your head, at chest height, are pools, festoons, hedges of flowers, their harmonies at once spontaneous and designed and renewed at every season" (quoted in C. Stuckey, Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, p. 220).
The gardens at Giverny were created not only to fulfill Monet's passion for nature, but also to provide the painter with artistic motifs. In his petition to the government for permission to build the lily pond, Monet specified that it would serve "for the pleasure of the eyes and also for the purpose of having subjects to paint" (W. 1191). Critics too repeatedly commented on the painterly quality of Monet's gardens. Marcel Proust, for instance, wrote, "If I can someday see M. Claude Monet's garden, I feel sure that I shall see something that is not so much a garden of flowers as of colors and tones, less an old-fashioned flower garden than a color garden, so to speak" (quoted in ibid., p. 250). Arsène Alexandre made a similar point: "Here is a painter who, in our own time, has multiplied the harmonies of color, has gone as far as one person can into the subtlety, opulence, and resonance of color. Who inspired all this? His flowers. Who was his teacher? His garden" (quoted in ibid., p. 223).
The present painting is one of two canvases that Monet made in 1913 depicting the northwestern corner of the flower garden and the upper story of the artist's house (W. 1777). The two works are closely related to a series of pictures from 1900-1902, which show the bordered pathways leading south from the house toward Monet's lily pond (fig. 3). In the 1912-1913 paintings, however, the handling is looser and more expressive, with dense webs of paint evoking a jungle of flowers and foliage. Tucker has noted, "Despite certain resemblances to earlier works, this new group is quite distinctive. The various forms of foliage surge and swirl as if competing for prominence in the scene while the house peers into the fray from behind the tangled brushwork like an inquisitive though somewhat fearful spectator" (op. cit., p. 58).
The present picture is also noteworthy as one of a very few canvases that Monet made between 1909 and 1913, a troubled time in his personal life. His wife, Alice Hoschedé, was diagnosed with leukemia in early 1910 and died a year later. His eldest son Jean began to suffer health problems shortly thereafter and succumbed to syphilis in 1914. During the same period, Monet learned that he had a cataract in his right eye, and flooding of the Seine and the Epte caused substantial damage to his beloved gardens. In August 1911, the artist lamented to his step-daughter Blanche Hoschedé, "I am completely fed up with painting and I am going to pack up my brushes and colors for good" (quoted in D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, vol. I, p. 396). By the following year, however, his mood had brightened, and he wrote to Durand-Ruel, "The doctor did not forbid my continuing to paint, and if the weather finally wants to improve, I will once again bravely take up working, which more than ever is what I need" (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 201). Executed around this time, La Maison de l'artiste à Giverny is evidence of Monet's persistent and insuppressible creative vitality. As Daniel Wildenstein has written, "This view of his home, painted from the garden, shows