In early 1892 Monet embarked on a campaign to paint the facade of Rouen’s Gothic Cathedral, sixty kilometres from Giverny. The project occupied him for three years and resulted in over thirty canvases. Monet painted from a rented room across the street from the cathedral and later reworked his canvases in his Giverny studio. Until this point he had never devoted so much time to a single motif. ‘I am working as hard as I can’, he wrote, ‘and do not even dream of doing anything except the cathedral. It is an immense task’.
Monet’s choice of this medieval landmark coincided with a nationwide surge in Catholic feeling and a renewed appreciation for France’s historic monuments. When the series was exhibited in May 1895, the melting effects of colour, tone and light across the carved features of the cathedral caused a sensation. Monet’s friend, the publisher and future politician Georges Clemenceau, called upon the President to buy the entire series for the state.
While in Rouen, Monet frequently corresponded with Alice about the garden and his envisaged lily pond. A local source of inspiration and encouragement was Émile Varenne, Director of Rouen’s Botanical Gardens, who took Monet on tours of the Gardens’ orchid houses. Varenne became a generous collaborator and helped Monet source rare plant specimens for Giverny.