For centuries, water lilies have been thought of as emblems of purity and beauty. Philosophers marveled at how a stunning, symmetrically perfect flower–sometimes with a sweet, subtle perfume–was capable of arising from such muddy waters. But if the pristine blooms and large, glossy lily pads give the illusion of cleanliness, every gardener who has ever reached down into a pond to deadhead a spent bloom will attest to the fact that underneath the façade of exquisite beauty is a slimy mess.
As we approach the end of our Monet’s Garden exhibition (Sunday, October 21), the water lily display–one of the centerpieces of the show–is still in its full glory. But while this exhibition took its inspiration from Monet’s garden at Giverny, the artist found his love of the flower elsewhere. Monet’s water garden was transformed when he met Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, the son of a wealthy, landowning French family. After studying law in Paris, Latour-Marliac returned to his home near Bordeaux to help his father manage his property. As an avid botanist, he soon developed a vast network with horticultural societies and botanists throughout the world.
Long before Lost Generation icons like Hemingway and Stein held court with Joyce and Fitzgerald, another cadre of artists called Paris home: “Les Mardistes,” named for the Tuesdays (in French: mardi) on which they often met. Imagine stepping into a parlor with Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and none other than the Impressionist himself, Claude Monet–you get the idea. When it rains, it pours, and late 19th-century France saw a veritable flood of the creative spirit. At the NYBG, we’re hoping you’ll join us in recreating it through The Garden Anthology, and all poets are welcome!
More than an homage to Giverny or an exhibition of Monet’s art, Monet’s Garden is a seasonal celebration of that prolific muse. No static thing, it moved fluidly between the arts, touching the Impressionist painter just as it inspired the Symbolist poets. In the Perennial Garden‘s Poetry Walk, you can see the work of Monet’s lyrical forebears and contemporaries proudly displayed among our summer blooms. Better yet, the Salon Series regales visitors with the words of the French writers–Verlaine, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Rimbaud–as recited by some of the finest New York poets to have studied them.
Half the fun of attending an evening event like Monet Evenings Featuring Water LilyConcerts, is getting dressed for it (or at least I think so). You want to look fancy, but not too dressed up; pretty, but not too girly to sit on the lawn; and be physically cool, while still looking cool.
Anyone around the NYBG digital media offices can attest to the fact that I have a workplace uniform and should in no way be trusted to give fashion advice, so I turned to Lilit Marcus.
Lilit is a New Yorker by way of North Carolina, which means she likes fried chicken and bagels equally (you can see why I trust her, right?). Lilit’s first book, Save the Assistants, based on the popular blog of the same name, was published in 2010. Her work has also appeared in Glamour, the New York Post, the Forward, and Cosmopolitan. Oh, and she’s mighty stylish, which makes her the perfect person to pull this chic little outfit together, just in time for the next Monet Evening, Thursday, July 19, 6-9 p.m. Take it away Lilit!
You could call our spotlight on the lotus blossoms an opening act. The true marquee headliners of Monet’s Garden–the prima donnas of our current collection–are without a doubt their nearby neighbors, the water lilies. There is no other flower in the landscape of spring, summer, or fall that so thoroughly represents the oeuvre of master Impressionist Claude Monet.
In the closing years of his life, the genus Nymphaea would come to define Monet’s obsession. He pulled dozens and dozens of scenes from that iconic spot by Giverny’s Japanese bridge, bringing concept to canvas with a verve few painters could match, then or now. Today, his water lily series stands as the ostensible height of his contribution to the history of art.
“It took me time to understand my water lilies,” Monet once wrote. “I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them.”
What does the British Invasion of the ’60s have to do with the NYBG‘s Water Lily Pool? Well, some of our visitors think there might be a connection there, but the validity of the link has proven elusive. So, in looking at the water lilies now growing in the outdoor pond–many of them breeds championed by Monet at Giverny–I’m here to set the record straight. Come rock, roll, or high water.
If you spend a few minutes perusing the signage around the water lilies in our pool, you’ll doubtless run into the culprit at the center of the stir. Many of the cultivar names in the collection lean toward Latinized or Asian-inspired nomenclature, but not this one. Even with its flowers yet to bloom, there’s more than one visitor to Monet’s Garden who’s thrown a double take at Nymphaea ‘Ray Davies’.
Yes, it’s a weed, it’s a biennial, and it’s called mullein (Verbascum bombyciferum). So many visitors asked me about this plant during a recent Conservatory tour of Monet’s Garden that, as soon as I got home, I went straight to the computer to look up more information.
When it comes to weeds, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” And it seems Monet’s keen eye was quick to see those virtues in mullein, especially when its wooly, whitish leaves were placed near the foliage of poppies.
For our exhibition, Monet’s spring flower garden features lots of poppies in many colors alongside–you guessed it–mullein. Rising over four feet high, the showy yellow flowers really stand out, prompting visitors to ask, “What’s that?”
We’re bringing the City of Lights to the City that Never Sleeps, and it begins this Saturday night with the first of our Monet Evenings.
Once a month from now through September, the NYBG will host elegant cocktail nights flaunting all the romance of the city on the Seine–the pluck and jangle of Gypsy Jazz, the nostalgic swoon of “La Vie en Rose,” the swing of the Zazou movement, or the sanguine strains of Debussy. Because, the way we see it, there’s no need to stop at the rural charm of Monet’s Giverny when so many of his contemporaries found their muse on the Champs-Élysées. Impressionism goes beyond the context of the canvas, after all.
Claude Monet’s careful brush strokes have intrigued art critics, collectors, and museum-goers for well over a century, yet the masterworks seen on canvas exceed simple impressions of nature’s vistas. From his admiration for Japanese landscape painters to his tours through the tulip fields of Holland, Monet’s experiences directly influenced his creations–both in paint and within the trellised borders of Giverny. And few so thoroughly understand the nuances of the man behind the palette like Professor Paul Hayes Tucker.
The world’s foremost Monet scholar, Professor Tucker joins The New York Botanical Garden as the esteemed curator of Monet’s Garden, celebrating the life of the master painter and gardener while bringing to light a career spent in pursuit of art’s highest achievements. Here he presents a brief journey, walking us through a story hidden within the subtleties of Monet’s artwork–that of an Impressionist with an ever evolving sense of what art could (or should) be.
The fleur-de-lis may predate the French monarchy, but it’s forever the nation of the Seine that we associate it with, and in turn the iris that inspired the symbol. It’s timely, then, that the irises are blooming now for Monet’s Garden, just as they are across the Atlantic in the artist’s garden at Giverny, settled in the north of France. Walking through our own display in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, you’ll come upon several breeds of royal purple flower poking proudly from between the delphiniums, poppies, and furry mullein stalks. But outside, the iris is a constant spring resident!
In ancient Greece, Iris was considered the goddess of the rainbow, a messenger between divinity and humanity who carried the word of the pantheon to Earth. Her flowers do their best to make their namesake proud in at least that first regard, sprouting up along borders and plots throughout the Garden in every shade of purple, blue, pink, and often white or yellow. (True red remains the sought after grail of the iris connoisseur, a color that no amount of hybridizing has been able to produce reliably.) Not the full range of the rainbow, but pretty close, to be sure.