My Favourite Painting: Lulu

'Waterlilies fascinate me, as they come from the depths of mud and dirt and yet are so beautiful, delicate and vibrant'

Detail of Water Lilies (Nymphéas), 1916–26, 79in by 502in, by Claude Monet (1840–1926), Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris. Bridgeman Images.

Lulu says:
Art to me is like music–it touches you and can heal and uplift, altering your mood. When I study these beautiful paintings, they transport me to Giverny. I find them so peaceful and serene, I can almost hear the water. Waterlilies fascinate me, as they come from the depths of mud and dirt and yet are so beautiful, delicate and vibrant. Monet catches that–his eye for colour is breathtaking. The greens, blues, pinks and whites blend and make you look differently at life.’

Lulu is a singer and actress. She will be giving the headline performance at the 30th Henley Festival’s concert this Saturday.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Monet bought a farmhouse and ‘poor orchard’ at Giverny, Normandy, when he was 50. After many difficult years, including near penury and the death of his first wife, he was enjoying some fame and fortune. But the purchase marked renewal, not withdrawal. He liked to start the day at 5.30am with a cold bath. ‘I dug, planted, weeded myself; in the evenings the children [his son and daughter plus six stepchildren] watered,’ he recalled.

By his death, the expanded garden, the lily pond its main feature, required a head gardener and five under-gardeners. Water had fascinated Monet since his childhood at Le Havre, where the local master-painter, Eugene Boudin, had first persuaded him to paint direct from nature. He planted Giverny, ‘my most beautiful masterpiece’, as if it were a painting and the lily pond became his fixation. He first painted it in 1892 and soon it became his principal subject. His purpose never altered. ‘I’ve always had a horror of theories…,’ he wrote in 1926, ‘the only merit I have is to have painted directly from Nature with the aim of conveying my impressions in front of the most fugitive effects.’

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His last great series, completed despite cataract problems, was made at the instigation of his old friend, the prime minister Georges Clemenceau. In 1916, a large studio was built so he could complete 19 panoramic Water Lilies for the French state, unveiled in the redesigned Orangerie the year after he died. Today, half a million tourists a year visit Giverny, whose head gardener is an Englishman, James Priest.’

This article was first published in Country Life, July 4, 2012