Gardens of Calm and Monet’s Waterlilies

Recently, I visited several museums in Paris where I viewed many of Monet’s paintings and learned more of his biography. What especially struck me were the many uncertainties in Monet’s life that could’ve threatened his painting career. Monet’s mother, who supported his interest in art, died when Monet was sixteen. At twenty, Monet was drafted into the army where he served in Algeria for two years before getting typhoid. Later, his first wife died leaving him with two sons. Twice he had operations for cataracts. The weight of having to provide for an additional six children he gained from his second partner, the work it was to take care of his gardens at Giverny—these many difficulties, yet no sense of these tensions surfaces in his paintings.

Entering the oval shaped room in the l’Orangerie is like stepping into a peaceful garden—as if Monet’s paintings have arisen from a place of meditation where the outer world slipped into a pool of interior contemplation, colors and textures reverberating off one another. Bending into the water’s mirrored exterior, plants and trees mingle with clouds’ reflections, blend with lily roots beneath the pond’s surface, and simultaneously give the viewer multiple perspectives of above and below the water, as well as its expansive surface.

Taking ideas from Japanese woodblocks, and with his children’s help, Monet created the garden at Giverny. He shaped the garden and the landscape, digging the ponds, putting in the Japanese bridge, and mixing common flowers with exotics, then painted the landscape and light. Dusty mauves, purples and muted blues–the color tones on the canvases in the l’Orangerie instill a feeling of calm. From the wide stretches of water textured with color, waterlilies appear in buds of illumination floating on spacious planes of reflection. Gardens filled with light and waterlilies–Monet painted the opposite of anxiety. 

Monet is especially known for his waterlily paintings. On the surface it may not seem like much to be known for or to commit oneself to—painting gardens with flowers. Yet he made us see them newly, and for nearly a hundred years, these paintings have drawn people from around the world to see their beauty.

Looking beyond our fears to the larger vision of our purpose and involving ourselves in creative acts can help us to let go those things that trap us in fear, and can improve our overall wellbeing. Cathy Malchiodi in her article in Psychology Today, “Creativity as a Wellness Practice,” describes how “in 2010, a review of existing literature on the benefits of the arts (music, visual arts, dance and writing) by Stuckey and Noble considered more than 100 studies, concluding that creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being on various patient populations.” Additionally, Malchiodi explains how a 2015 study shows “creative self-expression and exposure to the arts have wide-ranging effects on not only cognitive and psychosocial health, but also physical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, various forms of dementia and cancer.” Participating in generative acts and nurturing our creative strengths can turn fearful minds into calm minds where, like lilies of light, thoughts can emerge gently, illuminating what we need to know and do.

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8 Responses to Gardens of Calm and Monet’s Waterlilies

  1. Carolyn Boyd says:

    What lovely art, words, and thoughts. Moments of quiet reflection give healing.

  2. annacitrino says:

    You are a gardener, and are involved in creating numerous arts. I would love to hear more of your thoughts regarding how you see they have affected your life.

  3. Marcia says:

    Thanks Anna as usual your clear and lovely prose Bring a fresh point ofyou to something that I was just pondering.

  4. Joanne Zitelli says:

    Your comments provide meaningful and lovely insights to Monet’s famous paintings.
    Two years ago in May I visited Giverny when all flowers were blooming, a paradise. Then 2 days later I spent hours in L’Orangerie with those awe-inspiring paintings. It was a unique experience because, standing in front of the magnificent paintings, my mind and memory moved back and forth between the sensuous experience the actual garden and the cognitive experience of the paintings. Boundaries blurred– time, space– interior/exterior– a wonderful synchronicity. Many thanks for the calming effect of your post.

    • annacitrino says:

      So wonderful that you were able to visit the gardens themselves, and then visit this other garden that Monet painted that sits inside l’Orangerie. Worlds move inside of worlds. We live in so many places at once.

  5. Claudia Romero says:

    Very interesting way of looking at Monet´s art. We have tickets to go to Madrid from 20th june to 11th july. You are welcome to come, visit and stay with us around those days. Thanks for keep on writing on your blog.

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