The start (I hope) to a beautiful summer.
For the first time in months, I was able to spend the morning wandering around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was pure bliss. All my worries and cares fell away, and I was left with the sky, the light, the flowers, and the laughter of children.
A few verses.
A few lines about poetry.
A few sips down the throat
Of something thick and bitter.
The evening lowers its weary bones.
The barely audible tick-tack.
If only there was a summer shower.
My head on someone's navel. Yes!
(translated by Charles Simic)
Monet photographed on the Japanese bridge at Giverny, 1922
Derek Jarman, photographed by Howard Sooley, on the Japanese bridge at Giverny, 1993
Monet's garden at Giverny is the ultimate artist's garden. Covering almost two hectares, more like a park than a garden, it was used by Monet as an extension of his studio. He was fascinated by botany – he swapped plants with artist friends such as Caillebottte and was on good terms with the chief gardener of the Jardin des Plantes, with whom he had a regular exchange on garden subjects and new species. In the last decades of his life, the garden became the primary subject of his paintings. Writing to Gustave Geffroy in June 1912, Monet stated modestly, "I do what I can to convey what I experience before nature."
Derek Jarman, whose small but no less magical garden at Dungeness is a world away from the watery, lush, and expansive composition of Giverny, was a great admirer of Monet's garden. His final holiday before his death from complications of Aids was to Giverny, a pilgrimage of sort to another artist's creation. In the last book he ever wrote, a moving record of the improbably beautiful garden he had created in the inhospitable landscape of Dungeness–a desolate expanse of shingle facing a nuclear power station–Derek pronounced Monet's garden "the shaggiest garden in the world, only possible to describe in the flecks and dabs of colour in his paintings." This is the highest compliment Derek could bestow on any garden, since in his estimation, "If a garden isn't shaggy, forget it."
Monet in his first studio at Giverny
"Les Bassins aux nymphéas" (1917-1919)
"The Water Lily Pond" (1918)
"I have spent nearly eight lazy days looking at the sky, water, and flowers."
Claude Monet, in a letter dated May 14, 1908
Over a hundred years to the day after these words were written in Giverny, I stood in the Larry Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea looking at some of the beautifully complex paintings that Monet produced in the last two decades of his life from his singular way of looking at the sky, water and flowers in his monumental garden. The show reunites for the first time in 101 years the 7 paintings that were part of Monet's 1909 show at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, one of the last 3 three shows that he staged before his death at 86 in 1926. In the last decades of his life, Monet devoted himself to the making his elaborate garden, which became his muse and model for his paintings. From the collection of 27 paintings gathered in the show, the garden appears in various moods and colors, at times all shimmering and blue, and at other times dark and gnarly, the paint thickened in a turbulence of motion and color. These paintings reinforced Monet's thrust toward abstraction and point at his influence on such Abstractionist as Joan Mitchell and Jackson Pollock. It's one of the most beautiful shows I have seen in a long time. I left the gallery yearning for my own small patch of nature so I can spend my time looking at the sky, water and flowers for the rest of my days.