Monet’s Garden: 1905
The painting shows a girl standing on a bridge. Her right hand rests lightly on the rail, her left hand holds a parasol above her shoulder. The parasol is white, and the dress she is wearing is made of blue and white striped silk. Everything else is green: the rail of the bridge, the water beneath it, the trees that surround it. Only the lily pond reflects the shimmering tones of the Sunday dress. Somehow you know it is Sunday, a serene glowing day in early summer. You can see the sunlight filtering through the leaves, you can feel the warmth of the air glancing off the water. The girl’s face is in shadow and her features are indistinct, but you can tell she is young by the way she stands. There is something impatient about her. She is poised to take off. As soon as the painter gives her leave, she will dance off the bridge and run through the trees, heedless of her new dress and her best shoes and the parasol she has only recently acquired.
“Girl with Parasol,” oil on canvas, Claude Monet, 1905.
Tania was fifteen on that glittering June Sunday, and the reason she was so anxious to skip out of the canvas was the young man who was standing behind Monsieur Monet, watching him work. Early twenties, blond hair. Tania had been to Giverny more than once before with her father, who was Monsieur Monet’s dealer, but she had never on any of her visits seen this young man. If she had, she would have remembered. She had to summon up all her willpower to keep her fingers from drumming on the rail of the bridge and her face from creasing in a speculative frown. It was a great honour to be painted by Monsieur Monet: Papa had looked as though he might faint when Monsieur Monet proposed it, and it would never do for Tania to let him down.
But who on earth could it be? The young man had arrived just after Monsieur Monet started work, accompanied by an older man who Tania recognized as Monsieur Monet’s son-in-law, Theodore Butler. Monsieur Butler was an American: was his friend American too? Neither his clothes nor his features looked French. Papa was always saying that Giverny was turning into an American painters’ colony.
She stared at him across the lilies, willing him to stay. He stood at a respectful distance from the great artist, watching the brushstrokes, absorbing the concentration, exchanging a couple of low-voiced words with Monsieur Butler from time to time. He seemed to have no inclination to leave. Tania began to relax. The morning drew on, the sun moved round, lunchtime approached, and Monsieur Monet laid down his brushes. Released from her pose, Tania darted across the bridge and arrived just in time for the introductions. The young man’s name was James Whittaker, and he had been in France for only three weeks. He was a distant cousin of Monsieur Butler’s, his family came from upstate New York, and his ambition was to be a painter. Monsieur Monet smiled at him tolerantly, and then noticed Tania.
“Mademoiselle Wertheimer, permettez-moi de vous présenter Monsieur James Whittaker. Monsieur Whittaker, this is Tania, who I have known since she was a baby, and today on an old man’s whim I have decided to paint her.”
“Enchantée,” said Tania demurely, extending her hand.
“Enchanté,” repeated James, beaming, and kissed her hand.