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The Englishman who tends Monet’s Giverny gardens

The New York Times has an interesting profile of the Englishman who is head of the grounds at Giverny’s Monet estate gardens, James Priest. Excerpts below.

Keeping Abloom the Inspiration for Masterpieces
By SUZANNE DALEY
Published: July 26, 2011

GIVERNY, France — James Priest stood on a footbridge overlooking the lush Japanese-style lagoon at the bottom of Claude Monet’s garden, pleased with what he saw.
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It was here that Monet painted the water lily series that hangs in the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris.

“Some people go into the museum and they say — ‘wow,’ ” Mr. Priest said. “But I get that feeling standing here. Looking at this makes your head spin. It makes your heart boom — just like his paintings do.”

Mr. Priest, who is British, likes it even better in the evening when the visitors are gone, a solitary view he can relish whenever he wants. He took over last month as head gardener of the grounds that surround Monet’s pink stucco country house here, where the painter lived and worked during the last four decades of his life.

No one has made much ado about handing over an iconic French garden to an Englishman, he said. But he does blanch when asked if parts of the garden — with their wild tangle of flowers — reflect more of an English style than the formal, symmetrical style of French gardens.

“Oh, you must not say that,” he said, looking just a little bit panicked. “It is a unique garden, neither French nor English. It’s an artist’s garden, a dreamer’s garden.”

“This is France,” he added. “They cut off people’s heads for saying less than that.” …

Mr. Priest was raised in England and studied gardening there, but he has lived in France for some 30 years, much of it married to a Frenchwoman and tending the gardens for the Rothschild family estate in Chantilly, on the outskirts of Paris, called Royaumont.

At first, Mr. Priest took his new job at Giverny in stride. But having spent much of the last few weeks giving interviews, he says the weight of the task of caring for one of France’s most famous gardens is sinking in. “I know this sounds silly,” he said. “But it’s only little by little that I’m realizing the aura around this place. I was quite naïve really.”…

Historic Monet exhibition at Paris Grand Palais until January

October 8th, 2010 1 comment

The most important Monet exhibit in over 30 years is currently taking place right now until January 24, 2011 at the Grand Palais in Paris. You can get more information on the official website. It covers from his career’s work, with over 160 paintings from private collections and museums all over the world. As the New York Times states below, even President Sarkozy has voiced his support for this part of the French national heritage. Reserve online.

“Quai du Louvre,” from around 1867, part of a major re-evaluation of Claude Monet’s work now at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Paris Rediscovers Monet’s Magic at Grand Palais
New York Times – Oct. 4, 2010

“…The biggest art spectacle in Europe this fall, with some 160 paintings, it is, believe it or not, the first full-dress overview Paris has staged in decades, the first chance anywhere to see the whole sweep of his work in some time. The French are treating it like a national celebration. President Nicolas Sarkozy contributed a note to the catalog extolling this “unmistakable emblem of the international influence of French culture.” The exhibition would have been a box office smash even if it had corralled fewer of Monet’s benchmarks.

It happens to be ravishing…”

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