Here’s the conclusion to my historical-fiction story about Claude Monet in his later years. To read from the beginning:
Back in Giverny, Claude’s depression was intensified by the house without Alice. He ached to tell her about his trip to Les Collettes. Despite the emptiness of the room’s owner, Claude went to Alice’s bedroom and closed the door and sat on a chair and softly talked of the trip. As if she was sitting up in bed and smiling while she listened. He felt a little better.
Occasionally before Alice passed away, Claude’s doubts had been so heavy, he stayed in his bedroom all day. Meals were brought to him. Those episodes were short-lived, then he would leave his room and return to his family and painting.
Even though this current depression was heavier than any of those times, Claude saw that he could find a path back to art. Auguste had been correct about surrender as a horrible choice.
Claude was fearful of his vision quickly becoming worse and his sight robbed from him. He would’ve hated to lose the visual joys of his life. His children growing older. Gatherings around the dining table. Reading letters from loved ones, writing back. A cat lounging in a sun-spotted area of the garden, the feline yawning and baring fangs, the cat’s eyes drowsy with such contentment it could not imagine how the moment could be improved upon.
Seeing roses climbing the arches along the Grand Allée roses covering the arch at the boat dock clematis climbing trellises bearded iris Japanese crab apple trees Japanese cherry trees Japanese maples water lilies water iris wisteria azaleas ferns weeping willows rhododendrons bamboo sunflowers wallflowers morning glories African marigolds forget-me-nots agapanthus Spanish blue bells nasturtiums geraniums delphiniums pelargoniums dahlias gladioli pansies Oriental poppies red corn poppies Chinese peonies tree peonies Asiatic lilies cosmos lilacs ox-eye daisies snapdragons sweet peas hollyhocks hydrangea asters orchids in the greenhouse giant hogweed English lavender tulips daffodils foxgloves.
And of course seeing life begin on a blank canvas. Strokes of color forming the shapes of things, becoming what he created. His wives had accused Claude of pouring more of his heart and time into art and gardening than nearly everything else, and he knew that to be true. They were the loves that would not die. Flowers did, but they came back.
He had time. He wouldn’t be struck blind tomorrow. Hopefully not.
After breakfast the next day, Claude walked to the pond, to the peak of the arched bridge. Canopy of wisteria overhead. He wondered if the pond really seemed blurrier than the last time he looked at it, or if his mind was playing a trick. Below the bridge was a rippling mirrored image of himself. The water painted a portrait of Claude in his own style and set it in motion, a painting better than anything he could’ve accomplished. You could interpret nature, but you could never best her. That realization put you in your place as merely human. Claude focused only on the pond, blocking out the land and sky from his vision. Water lilies, ripples, reflections of clouds. He pretended those formed the entire world. Everything else was the void. To be able to paint that world on a large scale. To share that world with others. Show them the ceaseless surface of water in a way they hadn’t seen before.
copyright © 2020 Dave Williams. All images are from Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to the authors of the following books and webpages, for the research they did in the lives of Monet and Renoir. The materials were helpful for me to write about the events of 1908 and 1911 in the “Claude” story. I took creative liberties with dialogue, as well as the thoughts and some activities of the characters. Renoir and Gabrielle’s trip to visit Monet in Giverny during the summer of 1911 was included in the source material, but I made up the trip Monet took to Les Collettes.
Fell, Derek. The Magic of Monet’s Garden. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2007.
Fell, Derek. Renoir’s Garden. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1991.
Michels, Heide. Monet’s House: An Impressionist Interior. New York, NY: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1997.
The Phillips Collection. “The Pain Passes but the Beauty Remains.” Experiment Station blog. July 27, 2012.
Seitz, William C. Claude Monet article. Encyclopedia Britannica online.
Stuckey, Charles F. (editor). Monet: A Retrospective. New York, NY: Park Lane, 1986.
Todd, Pamela. The Impressionists at Home. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, Inc., 2005.
White, Barbara Erhlich. Renoir: An Intimate Biography. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, Inc., 2017.