1922 Photo: Claude Monet Stands on the Japanese Footbridge He Painted Through the Years


The late-1800’s Euro­pean fas­ci­na­tion with things Japan­ese some­times bor­dered on the col­lec­tion of Ori­en­tal­ist kitsch. At the height of French impres­sion­ism, so called Japon­isme was every­where, but rarely were Far East designs inte­grat­ed into West­ern land­scapes with such skill and sen­si­tiv­i­ty as in the work of Claude Mon­et. Next to his water lilies and haystacks, one of the most rec­og­niz­able fea­tures in the painter’s work is a Japan­ese-style foot­bridge, which, like the lilies, was part of his gar­den at Giverny (see the aged Mon­et on the bridge in the 1922 New York Times pho­to above).


We’re famil­iar with the bridge as it appears in an 1899 paint­ing Waterlily pond, green har­mo­ny, a sym­met­ri­cal gray struc­ture hov­er­ing in a lush, reflec­tive sea of greens, laven­ders, and pinks. As Monet’s eye­sight fur­ther failed him, his paint­ings became hard­er to parse, turn­ing to deep, Van Gogh-like swirls of col­or that are beau­ti­ful but some­times com­plete­ly abstract. Try and make out the bridge, for instance, in The Japan­ese Foot­bridge (above), paint­ed between 1920 and 1922.  Monet’s fas­ci­na­tion with the bridge is par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant when we con­sid­er that, as Australia’s Nation­al Gallery of Art says of Waterlily Pond, “not only did Mon­et cre­ate this paint­ing, he made every­thing depict­ed in it,” mean­ing that Mon­et curat­ed the land­scape and super­vised the footbridge’s con­struc­tion.

Monet's bridge-evening-may.2011

Mon­et had it built in 1893, delib­er­ate­ly choos­ing a Japan­ese style, but employ­ing local crafts­man in the con­struc­tion. And while the bridge had to be rebuilt in 1970, as you can see from French Impres­sion­ist trav­el guide Thomas Dowson’s 2011 pho­to of Monet’s real Nor­mandy land­scape (above), the painter’s gar­dens seem lit­tle changed from their nine­teenth cen­tu­ry char­ac­ter as a care­ful­ly bal­anced syn­the­sis of East and West aes­thet­ics.

A spe­cial thanks goes to @stevesilberman for shar­ing this with us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Film: Claude Mon­et at Work in His Famous Gar­den at Giverny, 1915

Impres­sion­ist Painter Edgar Degas Takes a Stroll in Paris, 1915

Watch Icon­ic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picas­so, Matisse, Kandin­sky, Renoir, Mon­et, Pol­lock & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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