It’s always impressive to have lunch at the French Academy, one of the most fabulous 17 th century building, designed by Louis Le Vau along the Seine, and when you are invited by Academician Hugues Gall, the witty and charming Director of Giverny (who was born in Honfleur!) it is even more exciting. The excuse for gathering twenty guests in the salon Vuillard, was the presentation of a new book published jointly by Giverny and Alain de Gourcuff on Monet’s private art collection. And it was fun !
Claude Monet gardens do not change from one year to the other and yet, in seven months, they attract 635 000 visitors ! Since Gerald van der Kemp and his American wife Florence, revived Giverny in 1980, it has become the most visited site in Normandy after the Mont Saint Michel. And this year, Hugues Gall had the clever idea of hanging on the walls of Monet’s house, reproductions of his favorite paintings. Sixty of them have been copied by Arnaud Troubetzkoi (who swears it only took his 8 painters three months to produce), and now hang on the walls of Monet’s bedroom, studios and dining room, the same way they did a hundred years ago.
Of course the originals are all in the greatest museums, in the US or in France, in Tokyo and in London. They were painted by Monet’s best friends, Renoir, Jongkind, Berthe Morisot, Caillebotte, Boudin or Cézanne. The idea of the book, « Le Musée intime de Monet à Giverny » is to give, thanks to its author Sylvie Patin, an accurate history of where and how Monet’s collection was displayed. She searched the Wildenstein catalog but also his vast correspondence with dealers, and since she is one of the leading Monet scholars, we can trust she found everything there was to find. Except for Sisley, whom she admits, she could not track any painting of his.
The idea is to penetrate the true taste of this artist and share the pleasure he felt, when alone at home. His letters are largely quoted in the book : « I wanted to make a portrait of Monet, show his faithfulness to his friends» says Sylvie Patin. After tracking all the habitués of Monet’s house, the curator general of Musée d’Orsay, managed to find 60 beautiful paintings, which copies are now hanging at Giverny, in the same place they were at the time.
Hugues Gall paid a long tribute to Michel Monet, the painters’ son, who died exactly 50 years ago. He bequeathed Giverny and a large collection of paintings (now at musée Marmottan), to the French Académie des Beaux Arts, even though his father had always refused to join it. Probably so that the state would not levy any taxes on the inheritance.
Conversation at lunch between art historian Adrien Goetz (another Norman, born in Caen), author of “Intrigue à Giverny” (he specializes in thrillers set in museums) and academician Erik Desmazières, the greatest French engraver, was quick and intense. On the musical side, Olivier Bellamy talked about preparing a big Offenbach evening for mid June at Théâtre des Champs Elysées with music critic, Alain Duault.
There was talk about the Royal Academy Impressionist gardens show in London, where Hugues Gall had sent Giverny’s eight gardeners for inspiration on a private visit, and of Caillebotte’s exhibition at Musée des Impressionistes. There was not enough time to review everything he is organizing for next year, but he did mention a project with Patrick de Carolis on “Monet, the collector” and hopefully, there will be more lunches and dinners to do so in the future. (Le Musée intime de Monet à Giverny, by Sylvie Patin, Gourcuff-Gradenigo, 25 € in French and in English)
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