Francesco Fontana‘s favorite spot is one created by a famous Impressionist painter, one of the greats who helped launch the current plein air movement. But Fontana puts a twist on his approach. 

Monet’s Japanese-style bridge at Giverny, in France

Fontana likes to paint at Giverny, France, in Monet’s garden. Many people think Giverny is beautiful, but Fontana turns his back to it. “I call it ‘alla seconda,’ making a little joke in a way, compared to ‘alla prima,'” he says. “I look at the scene, then turn away. We do remember what really moves us. It makes us more selective; we remember the information we want, and cancel what we don’t want. With just this little bit of a delay, we work here, in the head and heart. We put more emotion in the scene. Otherwise we could get overwhelmed by all the scene says.”

Monet Pond and House,” by Francesco Fontana, watercolor, 13 x 18 in.

“Monet Boat in the Pond,” by Francesco Fontana, watercolor, 13 x 18 in.

The Italian artist paints at Giverny at least once a year. Usually, this takes the form of leading a workshop. Monet’s garden is a popular tourist spot, but Fontana gets a permit, and after the garden closes at 5:30 p.m., the painters take over. “We get the afternoon light, and it’s only us painters,” says Fontana. “We are just alone in the silent, golden hours. You only hear the frogs splashing the water. The atmosphere in this place is magical. The setting sun filters through the tall weeping willows and is reflected in between the leaves that float on the waters.”

Fontana painting the pond at Giverny

Monet’s garden retains as much of the Impressionist master’s designs and ideas as possible, down to the type and placement of flowers and the paint colors of the manmade structures. In particular, Fontana and likeminded artists have been drawn to the small footbridges Monet placed there. “Their color is a fairly cool green, different from the greens surrounding them,” says Fontana. “And the shape is a very specific curve, difficult to imitate. You can feel that they are designed to be inspirational.”

Fontana and his friends painting in Giverny

Don’t forget the famous lily ponds. Although the garden is less than two acres, there are plenty of painting motifs. “You can feel overwhelmed by the abundance of subjects,” says Fontana. “I found myself painting three paintings simultaneously. I drew them around the pond and then I painted them by memory in a fourth corner, by the shade of a huge bamboo.”


  1. Elaine has inspired us here in the desert for years with her beautiful work. Thank you, Steve, for spreading the news about her terrific work.

  2. Gorgeous! Andreas Canyon I think. It was a challenging view but you handled it wonderfully. It was a truely an inspirational locale for Plein Air Artists of Riverside. Would love to go back.


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