Watch Footage of Claude Monet Painting in His Famous Garden at Giverny (1915)

What could be more charm­ing­ly idyl­lic than a glimpse of snowy-beard­ed Impres­sion­ist Claude Mon­et calm­ly paint­ing en plein-air in his gar­den at Giverny?

A wide-brimmed hat and two lux­u­ri­ous­ly large patio-type umbrel­las pro­vide shade, while the artist stays cool in a pris­tine white suit.

His can­vas is off cam­era for the most part, but giv­en the coor­di­nates, it seems safe to assume the subject’s got some­thing to do with the famous Japan­ese foot­bridge span­ning Monet’s equal­ly famous lily pond.

The sun’s still high when he puts down his cat’s tongue brush and heads back to the house with his lit­tle dog at his heels, no doubt antic­i­pat­ing a deli­cious, relaxed lun­cheon.

Even in black-and-white, it’s an irre­sistible pas­toral vision!

And quite a con­trast to the recent scene some 300 km away in Ypres, where Ger­man troops weaponized chlo­rine gas for the first time, releas­ing it in the Allied trench­es the same year the above footage of Mon­et was shot.

Lendon Payne, a British sap­per, was an eye­wit­ness to some of the may­hem:

When the gas attack was over and the all clear was sound­ed I decid­ed to go out for a breath of fresh air and see what was hap­pen­ing. But I could hard­ly believe my eyes when I looked along the bank. The bank was absolute­ly cov­ered with bod­ies of gassed men. Must have been over 1,000 of them. And down in the stream, a lit­tle bit fur­ther along the canal bank, the stream there was also full of bod­ies as well. They were grad­u­al­ly gath­ered up and all put in a huge pile after being iden­ti­fied in a place called Hos­pi­tal Farm on the left of Ypres.  And whilst they were in there the ADMS came along to make his report and whilst he was siz­ing up the sit­u­a­tion a shell burst and killed him.

The ear­ly days of the Great War are what spurred direc­tor Sacha Gui­try, seen chat­ting with Mon­et above, to vis­it the 82-year-old artist as part of his 22-minute silent doc­u­men­tary, Ceux de Chez Nous (Those of Our Land).

The entire project was an act of resis­tance.

With Ger­man intel­lec­tu­als trum­pet­ing the supe­ri­or­i­ty of Ger­man­ic cul­ture, the Russ­ian-born Gui­t­ry, a suc­cess­ful actor and play­wright, sought out audi­ences with aging French lumi­nar­ies, to pre­serve for future gen­er­a­tions.

In addi­tion to Mon­et, these include appear­ances by painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, sculp­tor Auguste Rodin, writer Ana­tole France, com­pos­er Camille Saint-Saens, and actor Sarah Bern­hardt.

Although Ceux de Chez Nous was silent, Gui­t­ry care­ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed the con­tent of each inter­view, revis­it­ing them in 1952 for the expand­ed ver­sion with com­men­tary, below.

Beneath his placid exte­ri­or, Mon­et, too, was quite con­sumed by the hor­rors unfold­ing near­by.

James Payne, cre­ator of the web series Great Art Explained, views Monet’s final eight water lily paint­ings as a “direct response to the most sav­age and apoc­a­lyp­tic peri­od of mod­ern history…a war memo­r­i­al to the mil­lions of lives trag­i­cal­ly lost in the First World War.”

In 1914, Mon­et wrote that while paint­ing helped take his mind off “these sad times” he also felt “ashamed to think about my lit­tle research­es into form and colour while so many peo­ple are suf­fer­ing and dying for us.”

As cura­tor Ann Dumas notes in RA Mag­a­zine:

The peace of his gar­den was some­times shat­tered by the sound of gun­fire from the bat­tle­fields only 50 kilo­me­tres away. His step­son was fight­ing at the front and his own son Michel was called up in 1915. Many of the inhab­i­tants of Giverny fled to safe­ty but Mon­et stayed behind: “…if those sav­ages must kill me, it will be in the mid­dle of my can­vas­es, in front of all my life’s work.” Paint­ing was what he did and he saw it, in a way, as his patri­ot­ic con­tri­bu­tion. A group of paint­ings of the weep­ing wil­low, a tra­di­tion­al sym­bol of mourn­ing, was Monet’s most imme­di­ate response to the war, the tree’s long, sweep­ing branch­es hang­ing over the water, an elo­quent expres­sion of grief and loss.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

1540 Mon­et Paint­ings in a Two Hour Video

Why Mon­et Paint­ed The Same Haystacks 25 Times

Monet’s Water Lilies: How World War I Inspired Mon­et to Paint His Final Mas­ter­pieces & Cre­ate “the World’s First Art Instal­la­tion”

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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