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Monet's Kitchen Made a Great Impression

Claude Monet was a food-lover as well as a painter.

November 14, 1996|MARILYN KLUGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kluger writes about food from Indiana

Since 1980, art and garden lovers from all over the world have flocked to the tiny village of Giverny, France, to visit Claude Monet's glorious gardens and home, now the Musee Claude Monet.

During the last 43 years of his life, from 1883 to 1926, when he lived and painted there, Parisian and English friends were invited inside the rose-draped garden walls to visit his green-shuttered pink stucco house and to enjoy his hospitality.

Monet was a cheerful and lively host. Perhaps his most frequent visitor was his old friend Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. Others were art dealers, photographers, writers, prospective buyers of paintings and other artists. Fellow Impressionists--Renoir, Rodin, Sisley, Cezanne, Pissarro and Caillebotte, who was responsible for Monet's lifelong passion for gardening--visited often. There, too, dined American artists John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, photographer Sacha Guitry, critic Gustave Geffroy, writer and avid gardener Octave Mirbeau, and Monet's patron and art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel.

These friends brought a bit of intellectual life and news from Paris, London and New York to the hard-working, private world of Giverny.

Alice Monet, the artist's wife, made out menus a week in advance and kept the larder, or "grocery," always well stocked. Guests were always invited for Sunday lunch. Alice took careful notes of her guests' tastes, and Monet's preferences were catered to.

"Monet was anything but indifferent to the pleasures of the table, and in his own home he ate and drank with application, like a true Frenchman," wrote Stephen Gwynn in "Claude Monet and His Garden."

Table talk was said to be mainly about the garden--not art--and about food. The Monet family was passionately interested in good food. Anyone who did not share this interest was held to be a barbarian.

The dining room is a bright, charming room, with furniture and walls painted two shades of sunny light yellow, chosen by Monet, as were the rest of the colors in the comfortable house. Two sets of long French windows open out onto the low balcony, overlooking a dazzle of flowers immediately in front of the house. Monet left these windows open at mealtime so sparrows could enter to pick up crumbs.

The attractive, simple kitchen, next to the dining room, is tiled with handmade blue faience, dado to ceiling. The woodwork, lower walls, ceiling and tables are painted in two shades of shiny blue.

At least 10 people sat down to every meal in the sunlit dining room, even when there were no guests. Monet's family included eight children, and later their spouses and children were often there for meals. The long table was laid with blue Willow Ware for everyday and, for grand occasions, with a service of white porcelain, banded in yellow and blue, which Monet had had made to order in Limoges. (Today, the Monet china, made by Haviland, is available at Tiffany & Co. or at the Musee Claude Monet.)

On summer afternoons, table and chairs might be moved out onto the grass under the lime trees, where the family often took tea or lemonade, or onto the balcony, where Monet liked to have lunch and sit after his evening meal, facing his garden.

After meals, guests toured the garden, greenhouses and studios and attended a viewing of Monet's collection of his work, hung in three rows around the walls of the ground-floor studio. The cook, Marguerite, might bring in meringues, lemon madeleines, cheese straws or her pastries.

The artist was an exacting man, an autocrat concerning household affairs. The kitchen, as well as the rest of the house, ran according to his schedule and work habits.

Monet was a gourmet with several obsessions. He was particular about when his beans were picked; he always carved the game, fowl and roasts at the table; he dressed the salads, showering them with black pepper. He would cut off the wings of roast duck, sprinkle them with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and then send them back to the kitchen to be grilled until they were piping hot.

Monet's cooks were often asked to create a dish for the artist on a moment's notice. Monet's entire family was interested in all sorts of recipes and collected those they had sampled to be tried out in the kitchen.

One day there was an argument at lunch about an upside-down apple tart invented by the Tatin sisters in the Sologne. So Monet called the chauffeur to bring up the Panhard-Levassor, and they all piled into the automobile and traveled to the Tatin Hotel, beyond Orleans, to taste it. A true foodie.

The following recipes were inspired by Monet and his love of food.

RED BEANS IN WINE

2 cups dried kidney beans

Water

3/4 cup dry red wine

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 1 stalk celery, 1/2 bay leaf, 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried, tied together)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 to 1/2 pound salt pork or jowl bacon, parboiled

1 teaspoon flour

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped parsley

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