Off the Page: ‘Artists in Residence’

For 43 years, the impressionist painter Claude Monet lived in the same house in Giverny, France—or more explicitly, among the vast gardens surrounding the house, in which he covered at least 250 canvases with paintings of the property’s famous water lilies, on display now in museums from Paris to Portland. But the gardens and home themselves have retained their own brand of beauty throughout the years, attracting pilgrims by the hundreds of thousands each year as they hope, perhaps, for a taste of the inspiration that helped form one of the most recognizable artists in history. 

As writer Melissa Wyse notes, accompanied by illustrator Kate Lewis’ delightfully jaunty watercolors, Monet is hardly the only artist made more interesting by merit of the home in which he worked. In her new book Artists in Residence: Seventeen Artists and Their Living Spaces, from Giverny to Casa Azul (Chronicle Books), Wyse leans into the creative suggestions of interior design, peering with intimate detail into the unique spaces, decorations and layouts occupied by artists, from Clementine Hunter’s humble existence on Louisiana’s Melrose Plantation to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s folksy blue abode in Coyoacán.

Even tragic and unexpected forays find their way into Wyse’s collection as she narrates the mental illness which led to Vincent Van Gogh’s move from the “yellow house” in his beloved Arles to the Saint Paul de Mausole, a psychiatric asylum near Provence where doctors also provided him with a separate painting studio.

“‘This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star…,’” Wyse quotes from Van Gogh’s diary. “‘[Charles-François] Daubigny and [Henri] Rousseau have done just that, expressing all that it has of intimacy, all that vast peace and majesty, but at the same time adding a feeling so individual, so heartbreaking.’” 

In the living spaces occupied by the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Hassan Hajjaj and Henri Matisse, we find desert light, patterned textiles and even a pet or two, a fascinating look at the sometimes meager, sometimes grand interiors in which artists worked, lived and dreamed. After the final page, one can only hope to find the same inspiration in our own surroundings that have become so intimate to us this past year, whether or not we’re mustering up masterpieces.