Les bibliothèques d'artistes

Claude Monet's library in Giverny

The library of the painter Claude Monet is still kept in the artist's house in Giverny. The study of this exceptional collection allows us to question the adage that Monet was “only an eye”. By leafing through his books, we discover on the contrary that the father of Impressionism was a man of knowledge, very well-situated in the cultural sphere of his time.

A forgotten collection

The choice of Monet as the portal's first library can be explained on the one hand by the team’s interest in this painter, and on the other, by the access granted by the Institut de France to work with this exceptional collection. Moreover, as surprising as it may seem, no studies have been devoted to this collection. Daniel Wildenstein mentions it several times in the notes to his letter correspondence catalog; Marianne Alphant, Claire Joyes and Paul Tucker also mention it, but without ever delving into it fully. Only the Japanese collection has been the object of particular attention, in connection with his print collection.

Working on Monet's library

A first inventory was carried out by the teams of the Monet house, whom we thank for their warm welcome and assistance. We then carried out a review of the works in order to verify their presence and the bibliographic information.

This catalog was first published in the form of a list in the appendix of La Bibliothèque de Monet.

By putting it in an online portal, the challenge today is to go beyond the paper publication by using digital technologies to explore this collection in an interactive way.

Monet in his library

After moving many times, Monet settled in Giverny in 1883. He remained there until his death in December 1926.

The house thus preserves the traces of Monet, the man and the painter. Even though among the paintings, the originals have been replaced by copies, the library has remained almost intact. It is located in the second studio that the artist had built on the second floor of a building attached to the main house. He worked there in 1899, when his first studio became more of an exhibition space than a work space, and before he had his third studio built, dedicated to the creation of the Water Lilies.

Let's follow Ségolène Le Men on a tour of this vast space lit by a large glass roof facing north: "In the second studio, during the restoration that began in 1976, the books found on-site in boxes were arranged on the shelves of specially fitted cupboards, some of which had remained "tightly packed", as they say in Normandy, on the five shelves of a large fin de siècle glass cupboard made of pitch pine, with interior curtains made of veiling, which was initially in the studio [...] The current arrangement, which has the merit of highlighting the painter's interest in literature and the arts, is presented in three sets: large-format books, with their original bindings or printed covers, sales or exhibition catalogs, pamphlets, and travel books and guidebooks, make up the first; books protected by red bindings—literature in the broadest sense—the second; others, with blue bindings—books of art history and essays on art—the third. The bindings that preserved the books also led to the disappearance of the printed covers, and perhaps to the cutting of the edges. This set is completed by horticultural books, which are mostly stored in the blue living room's clerestory window in the main house.”

To explore Monet's library further, we invite you to consult the few reference works mentioned below, to explore our "Zoom in on..." section dedicated to him, and of course to browse through the works in his library.


Reference works

Ségolène Le Men, Claire Maingon, Félicie de Maupeou, La bibliothèque de Monet, Paris, Citadelles et Mazenod, 2013

CThis anthology of texts taken from the artist's library and set alongside works by him and his fellow Impressionists reveals his artistic tastes, his mastery of painting and his imaginary museum (musée imaginaire). They also reveal his interests, from current events to travel, modern life and horticulture.

Ségolène Le Men, « Les Bibliothèques d’art, une ressource pour l’histoire de l’art », Perspective : actualité en histoire de l’art, 2, 2016, p.111-132

This article examines how artists' libraries have become an important corpus for art historians in recent years. It also raises the epistemological and methodological questions that this resource poses to the discipline, which, to study this resource, seizes approaches from genetics, sociology as well as cultural history.

Félicie Faizand de Maupeou, « Les bibliothèques d’artistes au prisme des humanités numériques : la bibliothèque de Monet », Perspective : actualité en histoire de l’art, 2, 2016, p. 175-180.

This article presents the Artists’ Libraries project: the methodological, technical and practical questions it raises through the example of the online publication of Monet's library.

Ségolène Le Men, Monet, Paris, Citadelles et Mazenod, 2010

Among the many biographies devoted to the artist, Ségolène Le Men's biography is characterized by its openness to new approaches, such as cultural history and the history of illustration, and by its links with other artistic fields, in particular the decorative and graphic arts.