Monet Quilt - Honouring Your Creativity in Spite of it All

When Monet destroyed an orchard in his new home in Giverny, to plant his garden, his neighbours were horrified. They couldn't believe he would waste perfectly good, productive land for something that was merely beautiful.

Monet quilt block

Claude Monet

For the last month I've been researching Monet's life out of curiosity for the namesake of my Monet Quilt. All I knew about him was his paintings, the water lilies, and the impressionist style I'd learned about in school. But, I've come to believe that there's more to offer in the stories of creative people than just their brushstrokes and the ways they stood out in the art world at the time. And, I have been deeply inspired and encouraged by Monet's story and the ways he protected and stoked his creativity. 

A few things lead to Monet being disowned by his family as a young adult. He didn't get on with his father who believed his drawings and dreams of becoming an artist to be a waste of time. His mother, Monet's huge encourager, died when he was 16. He refused to work in the family business, and then, the final straw, his girlfriend became pregnant with his son Jean before they were married. Monet left his father's house and financial care to pursue a life of art. 

Monet spent a significant portion of his early adulthood being dirt poor, practically homeless, struggling to buy paints or food and feeling wretched about his inability to care for his new family. Despite growing wealth in America and a growing appetite for art, he had a dream of being successful in France. It was his way of proving himself. He understood French taste and the French art heirarchy and longed to be accepted into it. 

But, it wasn't until he finally agreed to let his art dealer take his paintings to the US to sell them that his financial situation stabilised. It's easy to think of poverty of being the natural situation for many an artist. At times, worn like a badge of honour, it was a sign of their commitment to their art over frivolous things like wealth and comfort. But, Monet wrote about the 'tranquility' that surrounded him once he had enough money to not be at constant risk of ruin. He rented his final home in Giverny and settled. He planned his garden, dreamed of the future, painted the surrounding farms and rivers, and his work thrived. 


Making Beautiful Things Anyway

It didn't mean he was always happy. In one letter, he wrote, "No one but myself knows the anxiety I go through and the trouble I give myself.” Monet was often at war with his neighbours, who completely misunderstood him, and with himself. But, he had a goal to create a stunning garden, to bring the inspiration to himself rather than travel for it. To live constantly in it so that it could feed and comfort him. It was this goal that helped him set any doubts or conflict aside and plant these trees and shrubs and beautiful water lilies anyway. He planted rows and rows and rows of flowers, keeping some in a greenhouse that would survive the winter. He dug a huge pond and diverted the local river after a long battle to win local government approval. He built bridges and imported new plants and absolutely FILLED the land that used to be an orchard. 

The exhibition of his water lilies that followed was his most successful ever. 

monet quilt close up

Grandes Decorations

While planting his beautiful garden, Monet came up with a really great idea. He wanted to create an immersive art experience, a circular room, where the walls were covered in large scale motifs of his pond and his water lilies. He wanted the viewer to feel cocooned in the tranquility of the water. He called it his GRANDES DECORATIONS, and when he wrote about it, he used the capital letters to reflect its importance to him. It was an idea that sat waiting for years. Waiting the right serendipity of resources, inspiration and people to help make it happen. 

And then, in his 70s, tragedy struck. Monet's second wife passed away in 1911 and he was absolutely swallowed in grief. The following year, as he was trying to pick up his paints again, he realised that his vision had deteriorated, cataracts skewing the way he saw colour. Then, in early 1914, his son died. Monet packed away his paints (and his dream) and announced his retirement. 

monet quilt top

A Good Friend

Monet had a dear, old friend, Clemenceau, who came to visit him after the death of his son. He was convinced that despite his grief for his family, his vision, and his dream, there was more calling Monet. He believed there was still beauty left in him to be shared, and a grain of a purpose that could give his life meaning. Clemenceau asked to be walked around the garden. He asked to see the old Water Lily paintings. He told Monet that maybe now, on the brink of war, is when they needed beauty more than ever. He offered to find a place for his “Grandes Decorations” 

It was just what Monet needed. Still holding his grief and his declining vision, and soon, his worry about the war, Monet set about creating massive canvasses of his water lilies and his pond, the reflections of the clouds, and the weeping willows in varying lights and seasons. 

In August of that year, Germany invaded France. By December, 300,000 French soldiers had died. Monet kept painting. “It is still the best way to avoid dwelling on the present calamities,” he wrote in a letter, “though I feel a little embarrassed about making investigations into shape and colour while so many people are suffering and dying for us.”

Grand Decorations
Grand Decorations

No Time for Art!

A debate raged in newspapers at the time about the place of art in the current climate. Many famous French artists and writers and musicians put down their tools and headed to the front. “This is no time for art!” one author wrote. 

And, still Monet painted. At times, he was so sure of what he wanted and its value. At others, he was just desperate for comfort in a world falling apart around him

When the war was finally over in 1918, Monet was so relieved and overjoyed that he decided not to wait for some rich businessman to buy his paintings to make his Grandes Decorations a reality. He donated the Water Lilies to the French Government, and Clemenceau, Minister for War at the time, arranged for a circular room to be built in The Orangerie, a Paris Museum. Aren't they stunning? Even in just a photo, I can feel the peace and life he wanted to create in such a time of fear and sorrow. 

monet quilt top on ladder

Keeping My Heart Awake

Monet once wrote, “What keeps my heart awake is colourful silence.” I wonder if that's what drove Monet to keep planting despite the conflict with his neighbours, or with himself. To keep painting despite the war raging around him. He knew he needed colour and light and beauty and quiet in order to thrive, and that his thriving was a worthwhile pursuit. And, his big projects - his garden and his Grandes Decorations - kept him going even when he couldn't thrive. 

While making this quilt I've been inspired and challenged that Monet was willing to create this environment for himself, rather than hope it landed in his lap, or ignore his longings to keep his neighbours happy, or squash it because he was probably just being selfish or frivolous or silly. What do I want to do in my sewing room, the spaces outside my windows, or with my use of time that honours my creativity and treats it as precious and worth nurturing? What big dreams or longings do I have? What keeps my heart awake?

Honour Your Own Creativity

My Monet Quilt provided just the kind of flow an artist might feel while lost in their art. It’s perfect for using a small collection of fabrics, or a whole collection of scraps, without having to worry about colour balance or contrast like you might in many EPP blocks that have several rounds. Just cut your strips and throw it together at random! It’s one of my favourite, most relaxing ways to make a quilt.

If that sounds like something you'd love too, then I genuinely recommend Monet Quilt. Choose between the PDF pattern alone or the 3 in 1 bundle (PDF, papers, acrylic template) and enjoy the easy journey through various patchwork techniques.

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