The exhibition, which runs through Oct. 21, features a seasonally changing display of flora, currently a spring kaleidoscope of poppies, roses, foxgloves, irises, and delphiniums inside the botanical garden's Enid A. Haupt Conservancy. It also includes two rarely seen garden-inspired paintings, Monet's wooden palette, rare photos of Monet in his garden, and 30 photographs of Giverny by Elizabeth Murray, who has recorded Monet's flower oasis for 25 years. These are all located at the botanical garden's LuEsther T. Mertz Library.
A facade of Monet's pink stucco house with its bright green shutters — a historically accurate replica by Tony Award-winning set designer Scott Park — marks the start of the exhibition. From there, visitors are led down the Grand Allee, a shorter re-creation of Monet's rose-covered trellis pathway lined on both sides with thick beds of vibrant flowers. The path opens up to a replica of his famous Japanese footbridge arching over a water-lily pool encircled by willow trees and flowering shrubs.
"He could stand at his doorstep, as you can in this re-creation, and look down the allee to the Japanese bridge in the distance," said the exhibition curator, Monet scholar Paul Hayes Tucker.
"Since we know what flowers he planted, we can be very accurate historically," Tucker said. "It is only a fraction of his undertaking but, nonetheless, an enormously rich and extensive fraction that will hopefully encourage people to learn more about him and if one is lucky enough to go" to Giverny.
In the courtyard outside the Victorian greenhouse, two immense water basins contain a profusion of water lilies.
Monet, who made a fortune during his lifetime, was constantly planting, replanting and redesigning his gardens. He would remove the water lilies in the winter so they would survive the cold and then replant them in the spring and summer.
"What's wonderful is to think of Monet literally as planting a still life because it is in the end the arrangement of those water lilies that he paints in his pictures. He is constructing his painting, at least part of his painting, as he replants the pond," Tucker said, adding that the job of one of Monet's gardeners was to dunk the lilies so that the pads would glisten.
Summer months bring yellow and orange blossoms of nasturtiums, and lavenders, lilies and geraniums. In September and October, they will be replaced with chrysanthemums, salvia, sunflowers, asters, sages, dahlias, and other fall flowers.
Among the rare artifacts in the exhibition are two paintings of Monet's garden executed by the artist 15 years apart.
The Artist's Garden in Giverny, on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, was painted around the year 1900 and shows his flower garden with a dense arrangement of irises and decorative trees.
Irises, painted during World War I, is darker and moodier. On loan from a private Swiss collection and never before shown in the United States, it depicts a corner of the water garden that is replete with irises.
In a nearby glass case is one of Monet's paint-encrusted palettes, "a place where literally the hand and the eye come together and where that mysterious poetic moment of realization takes place," Tucker said. It's on loan from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
There are also documents and personal correspondence that provide a rich sense of how the gardens were conceived and how they functioned in Monet's life and art. A digitized version of one of Monet's sketchbooks reveals his propensity to draw before he set out to paint.
"We think of him almost exclusively as a painter so these sketchbooks reveal ... he would jot these pictorial ideas right in front of his motifs," Tucker said. "They provided a kind of touchstone for when he came back to the studio and began to organize the picture."
Ideally, he said, visitors will come away from the exhibition "with a greater sense of how complex and inventive Monet was as an individual."
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