The Menil Collection has a beautiful building devoted to the works of Cy Twombly. The day before seeing this collection I had given a talk on Monet, so I wasn’t surprised that he would jump to mind when I saw these paintings. While the rigorous movement of the paint, which Twombly did with this his hands, had all the hallmarks of a depiction of a pond, what screamed Monet to me was the shape of the canvas. This shape is the same one that Monet used in some decorations for Ruand Durel”s home.
Books of Interest:
Travel is an important part of my painting life, but not always in the ways expected. What connects meeting Robert Smithson in New Mexico two weeks before he died, Tony Caro in his London studio and Henry Moore at Perry Green, or having keys to Monet’s gardens, or painting on an archipelago in Sweden? For me, it is meeting artists in the environment in which they work, getting a sense of their connection to the place, its history, the other artists who surround them, and connecting all that to who I am as an artist, both in the moment and as these experiences work on me over time.
My Path to Monet and Giverny
There were ten years between when I picked up a book of black and white photos of Monet’s gardens in a bookstore in London and when I spent five months as an artist in residence at his gardens in Giverny. When I found the book, the gardens hadn’t even been restored yet, nor were they open to the public. But that book drove me to see Monet’s Waterlilies at the L’Orangerie in Paris, where they are mounted on curved walls in two oval galleries.
It is hard to imagine now, but until the 1970s the late work of Monet, which consisted almost entirely of the waterlilies, were not generally appreciated. It wasn’t until a bright light was shown on the work of the Abstract Expressionists: Pollock, deKooning, Kline and Rothko, that these paintings by Monet gained new significance. Monet’s broad and expressive brush-work, which seemed to carry more feeling than content, was seen as prescient of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It was suddenly relevant again.
Experiencing Monet’s gardens as he had.
Spending five months with unfettered access to his gardens and surroundings allowed me to see for myself what, exactly, Monet was extracting from his gardens and what he was making up. As it turns out, he was making up precious little. To experience the garden in real time, made it possible for me to see what he was up against — what the weather conditions were; how the light changed day to day and hour to hour. It was a great privilege to have this time to understand more intimately what he painted and the challenges he faced. What surprised me, is how precise the information is in his paintings, even with the ones most loosely painted.
Being in Giverny completely changed my own work.
Before Giverny, I was making paintings based on images from Giotto, Ingres and Matisse. After Giverny, I started to paint representationally and, not surprisingly, I searched for ways to imbue my work with light. What may be less obvious about the effects of that experience on me, is that it took me more than ten years to reconcile my abstract/conceptual longings with painting representationally.
Leslie Parke, “October Light”, oil on canvas.
My point is that through sharing Monet’s space over a long period of time, I not only gained insight into Monet, but I was moved and influenced in ways I never anticipated.
The magic of Nick and Andrew’s house carries on inside.
Books of Interest:
In the hills of Washington County, New York, my friends Nick Loscalzo and Andrew Ciccarelli have made their own little Bloomsbury house and garden. Nick, a painter, and Andrew, a master gardener and portrait photographer, have created a place to rival Charleston, the Bloombury home of Quinten Bell and Virginia Nicholson.
Books of Interest:
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
My friend Andrew loves to bake cakes. He is completely comfortable baking a cake without a recipe. So, when I called him and told him that I wanted to make a cake called “Vert-Vert” with green fondant fromMonet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet , he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. The cake called for, among other things: pistachios, kirsch, 2 1/4 cups of butter, about 8 eggs, and spinach for coloring. We headed for Hannafords and about $50. later had our ingredients.
“Vert-Vert”, detail of photo by Jean-Bernard Naudin from “Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet”.
The cake was to be cooked in a single pan, sliced into three layers and filled with pistachio cream – thus the need for 2 1/4 cups of butter. Andrew, who is not known for his patience, decided he would “soften” the butter in the microwave. A few seconds later we had enough melted butter to cover all the artichokes in Castroville, California. If we were going to proceed we would have to go back to the store for another pound of butter. But first, the cake had finished baking and was ready to be pulled from the oven.
Andrew Ciccarelli with my painting of him.
The half pan of batter had baked into a half pan of cake. It didn’t rise. Instead it buckled and lifted from the pan like a ribbon. It also had a rubbery consistency. It was obvious that three layers could not be cut from this frisbee sized hockey puck. Absolute, utter disaster!
One bite confirmed what our eyes already told us – this cake sucked. And there was no way that the green coloring seeping from the spinach was going to make the icing assume the luminous green glow that it had in the book. Khaki green fondant was not what I had in mind.
On top of that, we had already invited a friend we ran into at the grocery store to come over and sample the cake. Andrew and I agreed that the hockey puck, iced or not, was not going to be served.
Undeterred, Andrew emptied my cabinets and in under an hour produced a perfectly tasty chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache icing.
Later that year, when I had a chance to speak at the New England Culinary Institute about ” Monet and his Gardens in Giverny”, I challenged their students to produce the cake. I was happy to see, that while edible, it seemed nearly as squat and unspectacular as our version.
This is what happens when you are seduced by the color of a cake and have no feeling for its ingredients. Clearly, something was lost in translation.
Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet
Text by Claire Joyes, Photographs by Jean-Bernard Naudin
If You Want to Try Your Luck:
Recipes of Claude Monet
If You Go:
Claude Monet Foundation
84 Rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, FRANCE
P.O. Box 1041, Castroville, California 95012. Tel (831) 633-2465 • Fax (831) 633-0485 email@example.com
New England Culinary Institute
56 College Street Montpelier, VT 05602 – firstname.lastname@example.org – 877-223-6324
NECI has several great restaurants on campus.
Andrew is a master gardener and great cake baker living in Granville, New York.
Since Andrew makes up his recipes as he goes along and doesn’t write them down, I asked him to recommend a recipe for a cake that he loved.
Double-Chocolate Bundt Cake with Ganache Glaze
Recipe by Kate Neumann
- Vegetable oil spray
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup strong-brewed coffee
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray. In a small saucepan, melt 2 ounces of the chopped chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Scrape the chocolate into a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the oil and sugar until smooth, then whisk in the egg.
- In a small bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture along with 1/2 cup of the coffee and 1/2 cup of the buttermilk; whisk until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients, coffee and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn it out and let cool completely.
- In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the remaining 3 ounces of chopped chocolate with the corn syrup and butter. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the ganache glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the ganache over the cooled cake. Let the cake stand until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes, before serving.
Make Ahead The glazed cake can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days.
Andrew with yet another great cake. Note the fleur de lis on his shirt!