The magic of Claude Monet’s garden comes to life in a new book called Everyday Monet: A Giverny-Inspired Gardening and Lifestyle Guide to Living Your Best Impressionist Life. Within this visually stunning book, Monet expert Aileen Bordman immerses readers in the beauty of Monet’s world– from the colour palette of his garden to his passion for food and drink. In the introduction, Bordman describes the impact of an early gift from her mother, an envelope filled with lavender from the Giverny garden, which inspired Bordman, over the decades, to send gift packets of Giverny seeds to people all over the world, “encouraging others to plant and, thereby, transport Monet’s garden to their own homes.” Her book is a continuation of this mission, sharing Monet’s spirit and offering readers a way to take home the beauty found at the artist’s house and garden.
Here we share an excerpt from the book, about how to picnic en plein air, Monet style. All featured photos from Everyday Monet are reprinted with the publisher’s permission.
MONET’S PASSION FOR PICNICS
Just imagine a picnic at Monet’s garden and how beautiful the surroundings would be. There are simple ways you can entertain with the taste of Giverny. This is your guide to a little culinary celebration, one Monet would have enjoyed in his radiant dining room or at a picnic en plein air.
La Belle Époque was a time during which men wore mustaches and women began to smoke, while picnicking outdoors or while entertaining indoors—it was such a departure from the staid tea and cakes of the Victorian era. Guests were giddy at Monet’s home and garden. The superb champagne would flow, and the festivities continued well into the evening. Monet actually decanted his champagne as he did not care for the bubbles.
Once upon a time I took a road trip with my cousin Marcel from Paris to our family’s home in the town of Juan-les-Pins on the Côte d’Azur in southeastern France. I could imagine Monet making his way to the French and Italian Riviera to paint, eat, and nd inspiration. The colors of the Riviera were lush . . . the sea blue, beach pink, orange, and lavender. These colors became a part of his home and garden; the flowers became living decorations for his guests.
I still remember my trip as if it were yesterday. Marcel handed me what I thought was an ordinary sandwich, albeit one nestled and cleverly folded in waxed paper. As I opened the paper, I immediately inhaled the sweet and briny aroma of smoked salmon. The bread on either side of the salmon was thin, yet crusty, and the fish lay upon a generous layer of sweet, creamy butter. This was more than just a sandwich. It was something Marcel had carefully planned and lovingly prepared at home. He knew that he wanted us to experience the pleasure of dining en plein air, even if that meant that we would have to sit on the trunk of the car to do so. And that is exactly what we did. It was a seemingly spontaneous picnic, and yet there was forethought in Marcel’s preparation. I will mark that joyful moment in time forever.
Just as Marcel and I enjoyed the art of travel and picnic, Monet did too. I often think of Monet traveling. I imagine him visiting the seashore to paint, and then enjoying a hearty sandwich with some wine. Of course, if the light changed he would immediately have to put down the sandwich and run back to his easel, to set the colors and perspectives in paint. Imagine being among the irises Monet meticulously planted, nurtured, and painted—and eating a luxurious picnic all at the same time.
The French make picnicking easy and I appropriated the habit in a heartbeat. Marcel set an example that I followed with gusto. I would pick up or whip up pissaladière (Niçoise olive, sweet onion, and anchovy pizza); or a sandwich, whether as elemental and elegant as jambon-beurre (a baguette sandwich of sweet butter and salty ham) or as deliciously messy as pan bagnat (a round roll sandwich filled with tuna, anchovies, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and olive oil). There was always a park bench for me to sit on to enjoy my little handheld feast. Or if family and friends were involved, I would fill a basket with whatever delicacies I had prepared at home, or head to a variety of shops and gather pâtés, cheeses, olives, radishes, bread, strawberries, and macarons for the occasion. Champagne and wine were a given and we would spread out a blanket just about anywhere.
I fantasized about luxuriating on that blanket in Monet’s picnic painting on page 158. The roast chicken, paté, salad, bread, Camembert cheese, and rosé were laid out before me. Joining my little fantasy were Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, Victor Hugo, Octave Mirbeau, and the Monet family. Perhaps I could see the fuchsia peonies bouncing as their fragrance married with the scent of my wine.
To read more about Monet’s plein air picnics (he sure loved his beverages!), and his love for entertaining, pick up the book Everyday Monet, available for purchase on Amazon below: