I’m gonna ask you to think about riveting blends of color for a moment. What just popped up on your visual screen? The brilliant fall leaves that just blanketed your lawn, the Sunday comics, the neon billboards of Times Square? Or was it perhaps a bowl of M&Ms? If it was, I’ll forgive you—you probably have a lot of Halloween candy left over.
What comes to mind for me is Claude Monet’s paintings of water lilies—those Impressionistic masterpieces that were inspired by the interplay of light, shadow, water and plant life in and around the landscapes he and his gardeners crafted on his property just north of Paris, in Giverny, France. Using large brush strokes and multiple layers of paint, Monet painted the enchanting scenery that surrounded his home over and over again during the final 30 years of his life (from about 1893 until the early 1920s).
I’ve spent many an hour scrutinizing the Monet paintings that hang at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; along with the works of abstract painters like Raoul Dufy, they’ve had a big impact on my sense of composition and color. Monet’s oils can be seen in the collections of many museums around the world, but they’re only one way to gain insight into the ways he helped jump-start the modern art movement. Around half a million visitors a year have recognized that the gardens that inspired many of the artist’s revolutionary paintings are an equally vital way to understand the man and his vision, not to mention experience a phenomenal landscape.
But guess what? The most amazing component of that landscape, the Water Garden, replete with its resplendent lilies, is about to be replicated Stateside and, thanks to some creative partnering, you may be able to get a gander—but not before 2008; it won’t be finished until then. Two developers, Stephen Macauley and Brian Jordan, in collaboration with the Academie des Beaux-Arts and the Fondation Claude Monet, a French organization dedicated to the restoration of the Monet estate, have commissioned its chief gardener, Gilbert Vahe, to copy the Water Garden, inch for inch, in their new, exclusive Atlanta housing development. Called Le Jardin (lejardinatlanta.com), the development is a far cry from the typical McMansion subdivision. It’s guided by the premise that buyers of ultraluxe houses in exclusive gated communities want to be surrounded by international artworks and fabulously lush gardens, and they might be a bit more tempted to settle 20 minutes from downtown if their homeownership package included such sophisticated enticements as museum memberships and lecture opportunities.
The water garden at Le Jardin, based on Monet’s notebooks and photographs, which meticulously documented the feature as it evolved over time, ironically will be more true to Monet’s concept than the Giverny original. That’s because it won’t have to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visitors. Lest you think this is some sort of Disneyesque scheme to lure homeowners or scads of tourists to the site via cheap theatrical tricks, far from it— entrance to the grounds will be exceedingly restricted. A cultural foundation is being created at Le Jardin to oversee artist- and gardener-in-residence programs orchestrated by the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the High Museum, and tours of the landscapes will be limited to school groups and to individuals by appointment only. It’s a bit tough to know that this spectacular thing will be re-created in our “backyard” but few of us will ever get to see it. That said, some lucky landscapers are going to get to study under M. Vahe and his team. This might well be the next best thing to sitting at the knee of Monet.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with M. Vahe and speaking to him about Le Jardin. (He was sitting in my midtown Manhattan office on the 42nd floor and hungrily searching for signs of nature amid the concrete jungle outside my windows; the Hudson River snippet didn’t quite cut it, I suspect.) “In this land of grand homages and commercial gimmickry, I can’t believe no one has ever tried to recreate Monet’s Water Garden! How do you explain that?” I asked.
“Quite simply,” he said. “No one has ever asked.”