Interpretive Resource

Monet's Water Garden

Learn about Monet's conception and design of his Giverny water garden. Analyze his painting Water Lily Pool, 1900 and try your hand at writing a haiku and designing your own water garden.

Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Education Department: Teacher Programs. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995, map insert.

Water Garden

In 1893, Monet bought some land near his house in Giverny (JHEE-vair-niee). Over the course of several years he designed and built a water garden in addition to the flower and vegetable gardens he had already painted. Monet said, "I planted my water lilies for pleasure; I cultivated them without thinking of painting them. A landscape does not get through to you all at once. And then suddenly, I had the revelation of the magic of my pond." The original garden extended only 20 feet) beyond the footbridge (as shown in this painting). Monet was inspired by Japanese gardens and design, and included Japanese features such as irregular contours and natural features of the land. For the last 30 years of his life, scenes of the water garden were Monet’s favorite theme.

Horticulture, the cultivation of gardens, was enthusiastically embraced by the 19th century French middle class. Considered to be an art as well as a science, horticulture inspired many books, courses. and lectures, and it stimulated an amateur gardening craze. There were several families of gardens: utility gardens (vegetable and fruit orchards), pleasure gardens (flowers laid out with public or private walks), and conservatories (indoor hothouse gardens). Many viewers of Monet’s paintings would have strolled through public gardens, or been gardeners themselves. Monet had all three types of gardens at his house in Giverny, providing him with a continuous variety of flowers amid vegetables to paint in all seasons and weathers, and fresh food for his table.

Discussion Questions

Which of Monet’s gardens appears in this painting? What kinds of flowers and trees are in this scene? Where is the sky? What is reflected in the water? Does this scene look like wild nature or a planned garden? What would you have to consider when designing and planting a water garden? Compare this painting to the painting of time wheatstacks or the coast. What is similar about Monet’s portrayals of the natural world? How are they different?

Classroom Activities

Monet designed his water gardens in part to look hike Japanese gardens. Using the elements in Water Lily Garden (the Japanese bridge, the lilies, the willows) have your students write a haiku, a Japanese poem, describing Monet’s garden. A haiku is “a swift record in words of one moment," or a “little picture in words." It has three non-rhyming lines: the first line is five syllables bug, the second lime is seven syllables long, and the third lime is five syllables long.

Using ideas from Monet’s gardens, have your students design or paint a water garden. How do their designs differ from Monet’s? A good source for ideas and details is Monet’s Passion by Elizabeth Murray (San Francisco: Pomegranate Art Books, 1989).

Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson (Stockholm: R&S Books, 1985) describes a trip to Giverny taken by a girl living today. Have your students plan a trip to Giverny. What would they see? What would they (10? With whom would they go? How would they get there?

Impressionism, landscapes, water


Elementary, High School, Middle School

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