Monet’s Passion by Elizabeth Murray – Book Review

Elizabeth Murray in The New York Botanical Garden at the Monet's Garden Show 2012

French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) maintained his passion for art and gardens all of his life, just as author, photographer, painter, garden designer and keynote speaker Elizabeth Murray from California maintains hers.

Her best selling book Monet’s Passion, Ideas, Inspirations & Insights from the Painter’s Gardens produced by Pomegranate Communications Inc., received an award from the Pacific Horticulture Society in May 2012. It followed on from the successful opening night of a landmark show at The New York Botanical Garden, in which Elizabeth Murray’s photographs of the garden at Giverny were displayed.

Monet’s Passion is a book that gives enormous pleasure to those who love the art of gardens because it is a warm, moving story superbly told in wonderful words enhanced by sumptuous imagery. Along life’s journey it became necessary for Elizabeth Murray in developing her interests in art and gardens, to better understand the whole Claude Monet experience.

During the mid eighties Elizabeth decided to take time out and feed her heart and soul by visiting gardens around the world. She visited Monet’s garden at Giverny, which had only just re-opened in 1980 following years of neglect because of World War II.

The beauty of a water lily - Image © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

Elizabeth became so enraptured that she decided she wanted more than a visit and so with the story of Monet and colours of his garden palette for inspiration, she went out and made it happen.

In 1985 Conservator of the Museé Claude Monet, M. Gérald van der Kemp invited Elizabeth Murray to live and work in the gardens to help with its restoration. Daily for nine months she enriched her mind, heart and soul as she interacted with the garden, the gardeners, the villagers and the visitors.

Elizabeth spent hour after hour digging in Monet’s earth and walking in Monet’s footsteps while gaining an insight and understanding about the man, the artist, his life, his craft and his passion.

Claude Monet’s passion was his home and its well-planned garden located at Giverny in Normandy, a region of France whose agricultural heartland spawned its earthy functionalism. Over the centuries it added a rich mix of elegance that now inspires creativity.

Monet was both a poet and painter of nature. When he was working in his garden he would wait patiently for the sun to rise so that every item would be painted in the same light.

Then with quick and lively proliferating brush strokes he would record the light dancing on trembling foliage, the zigzag reflections on still water and the noonday sun reigning over a sizzling summer.

With understated sartorial style he welcomed guests to his garden. As it, and he gained fame journalists, art critics and dealers arrived to view how he transferred painterly concerns from the art of painting to the art of gardens.

Claude Monet House & Garden at Giverny - Images © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

The village that Monet’s house is part of is very ancient. He lived there for 43 years, first as a tenant and after 1890 as the owner. During his lifetime the warmth of Monet’s life and passion opened many doors and windows onto a different world in art.

He was capturing and releasing, all at once, the very essence of beauty and of the sublime. At Giverny, Monet wove all the strands of his creative life together and they became part of the fabric of his garden.

First Impressions - Springtime at Giverny - Claude Monet 1886

His horticultural wizardry was the main motif of his artistic genius and his paintings on canvas are inextricably bound to Monet the man and gardener.

In his lifetime Monet’s garden was likened to a tonal poem as, with a lively vitality he dissolved substance and reality in light and colour.

Monet’s painting of Spring at Giverney (1886) is a vision of how the village looked when he was there, clothed in the softest pinks. It was probably his first impression of a region full of magic light and charm that seduced and held him captive for the rest of his natural life. He was entirely beguiled by the entire experience of Normandy from its springtime apple blossoms, to the early snow, which in his lifetime was rare.

All the colours featured in an Impressionist painter’s palette are there; the misty greens of the wheat fields in the mornings; the blush pink and creamy white of the apple blossoms in Spring; the softly mottled blues, mauves and lavenders of the Summer sky; the shimmering golden haze over an orchard at sunset in Autumn with its paler almost iridescent sky.

It is a rich tableau suffused by subtle nuances of colour supplied by nature.

In this publication the experiences author Elizabeth Murray has expressed so fully will help others to develop theirs. As you read the text and are delighted by the amazing imagery it is entirely possible to detect the sound of the wind in the trees and imagine the trembling of the autumn leaves before they fall to the ground providing nourishment through decay. Everything that dies is resurrected here.

Monet admired the bricklayer, who when building a wall, placed a rose in front of him so that he could, from time to time inhale its scent as he worked with nature's palette of colours - Image © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

We can watch in our minds eye the waving of a single flower in a gentle breeze, while a misty haze of colour softly caresses the beauty of the garden while reflecting the timelessness of the French countryside.

Over the years since the first book became a best-seller, Elizabeth has been back to Giverny more than often and has been photographing the garden annually for more than twenty-five years.

An up to the minute anniversary edition is packed with some of the most ravishing images of the garden at Giverny ever recorded.

There is a wonderful consistency about how Elizabeth manages to constantly invade our senses with her own lasting impressions of sunlight on figures, trees and flowers. The whole is an informal grace of pose and movement, and a total triumph of colour.

You can understand why, when you know that her photography is housed in several museums and private collections, including the De Young Museum of San Francisco and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The book includes beautifully laid out plans for the Flower and Water Gardens. Each one has been meticulously detailed for the passionate gardener who would like to either understand Monet’s garden before visiting, or recreate a slice of Monet heaven of their own.

The chapter on Monet’s Garden today is erudite, gentle, warm and welcoming. It is about Elizabeth responding to Monet’s spontaneity in a style that brought brilliance to colour palettes, which before the impressionist’s painters time had only known sobriety.

Elizabeth eruditely explains how it is only through well-planned ‘orderly disorder’ that you can achieve the feeling of ‘wild abandon’, which is so important in some sections of the garden.

The message is if you want any garden to work well you need an overall vision and philosophy for what you want to achieve. Then you also need to be prepared to change it if it doesn’t work. You need places to sit and observe and consider the light at different times of the day and in different seasons. And, if you plan a water garden it is about managing reflections and refracting light.

He claimed that the ‘poor palettes’ of the painter could not capture fully the colour of flowers - Image © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

If you learn all the style references Elizabeth has laid out so clearly then you will have a palette of colours you can apply in many different situations. And, if you want to bring Giverny home, the ‘Blooming House’ section has a warm welcome on the doormat.

It provides instructions on how you can make your own home more inviting for visitors as they approach and leave. It places an emphasis on the intimate relationship Monet had with his garden to help you develop one with your own.

Creating a connection to nature will help you to be in touch with your own local ecosystem and your inner self, so important for health and wellbeing.

There are sections on Plant Cultivation, Plants Used by Monet in his Gardens, Detailed Plantings of The Water Garden. My particular favourites are the Paint Box Plantings of A Kitchen Garden and The Paint Box Plantings Colour Study Gardens by Seasons.

They include hints on preparing the beds, planting the borders, planting the kitchen garden, and the all-important Colour Study Gardens that provide, what Elizabeth calls ‘floral fireworks’.

The all important Chronology of the Garden will certainly assist horticultural students and garden historians in their research.

Nature never stops’, was one of his favourite sayings, and with the broad strokes of his brush, Claude Monet closed the gap between the dreamer and the dream. Image © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

For those who live in the city, and have a terrace or balcony there is a section entitled Balcony Gardening with Monet’s Signature Plants so that you can leave your own impressions.

If you learn Monet’s Colour Palette and Vocabulary of Colour you can experience winter warmth and summer cool by employing all the arts of deception – colour and distance, strength and saturation, shade and light and texture, tone and tints and they will work just about anywhere in the world.

Elizabeth Murray certainly understands ‘Monet’s Passion’ and in her work and in her life has helped to preserve and conserve the ‘hand of the great master’*.

In the annals of garden history ‘Monet’s Passion’ by Elizabeth Murray is a worthy contribution to the conservation of creativity and the preservation of art and nature.

All the sections of the book are wonderfully conceived and beautifully designed and, like its subject it is a thing of beauty. The green ribbon satin bookmark, so popular in Monet’s time is a delightful addition honouring heritage and contributing, albeit in a small way, to conserving nature.

Monet’s Passion’ by Elizabeth Murray is a splendid celebration of human achievement and most importantly, it is a splendid tribute to the man and artist Claude Monet, whose life was so passionately devoted to the cultivation of beauty.

Book Review
Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens

By Carolyn McDowall © The Culture Concept Circle 2011-2013

Author Elizabeth Murray

About the Author
Elizabeth Murray received her bachelor’s degrees in fine art, environmental education, and botany from Sonoma State University. She is the author of numerous gardening and art books, including Painterly Photography: Awakening the Artist Within and Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul.

Her photography is housed in several museums and private collections, including the de Young Museum of San Francisco and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Murray resides in Monterey California, where she designs gardens as healing spaces and teaches creativity classes using photography, painting, and flowers.

Elizabeth Murray is still inspired by the ideas and insights from Monet’s amazing painter’s gardens. This celebratory edition offers new text, new images, and new garden plans based on Claude Monet’s spectacular gardens at Giverny. With 140 pages and over 75 color photographs, along with color garden plans, transparent overlays for garden designs, and historical photographs.

Images © Elizabeth Murray/courtesy Pomegranate Communications

Monet’s Passion Published by
Pomegranate Communications Inc.

Publisher Information
Pomegranate Communications Inc specialises in vast array of high-quality, affordable products. The company collaborates with many renowned institutions including the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Sierra Club, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston.

Quotes *# Book: Monet’s Passion – Pages 9, 23, by Elizabeth Murray Published by Pomegranate

Purchase Monet’s Passion

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