‘Everything is wonderful and everyday the countryside is more beautiful and I am bewitched by the town. Here everything is beautiful and the weather is superb’, wrote Claude Monet in 1884 to his friend and Parisian gallery owner Durand-Ruel.
Monet was in Bordighera, where he arrived the 18th January and left the 3rd April. He stayed at the ‘Pension Anglaise’ for 79 days: less than three months which represented for Monet a never-ending font of inspiration, and for the Riviera dei Fiori an unforgettable stay made eternal by the canvases on which the artist painted Bordighera and then Dolceacqua, the medieval village which was visited by him one memorable day:
We had a marvellous trip. We left by carriage bright and early and reached an extremely picturesque village of Val Nervia, intending to return to Bordighera by foot via a hilly walk…unfortunately I can never recount through a painting the marvels which I saw during the return trip due to the difficulties which I would have to face to go back there and paint them
In this case Monet was wrong, because his memory convinced him to leave his mark, and the painting “The castle and the bridge” remains one of the most celebrated in the history of Impressionism.
Today’s travellers, following the trail of Monet, remain struck by one factor: this world which moved the imagination and heart of Claude Monet, has not changed. A century and a quarter have not affected Bordighera or even Dolceacqua. The Moreno Garden of Bordighera, which Monet defined as “phantasmagorical”, where ”all the plants in the universe seem to grow spontaneously”
Is still partially visible between Via Romana and Via Tumiati, along the pathway of Beodo, in the Monet Gardens, in the gardens of Villa Palmizi and Villa Schiva, where a superb “pinus canariensis” stands at over 30 metres, the tallest in Europe. Moreno, an oil merchant and French consular agent, became a friend of the artist: “decidedly a lovely man… I returned laden with flowers, oranges, mandarins and delicious sweet lemons”. In Bordighera, Monet was enraptured by the ‘blue sea’, the exotic palms and the exuberant vegetation, perhaps too much so:
I want to do oranges and lemons which stand out against the blue sea but I can’t find them how I want them. As for the blue the sea and sky, it is just impossible
In those 79 days Monet painted the Via Romana and the old town seen from a distance, from the top of the Torre dei Mostaccini and the Vallone del Sasso. During his trip he did 38 paintings, mostly in Bordighera, others in Sasso and Vallebona and four in Dolceacqua which he went to for the first time one cold morning on the 17th February 1884, in a carriage in the company of some English gentlemen he met in the guesthouse where he was staying.