Today I went on vacation with Monet. No, really, I did! Yes, I feel fine.
The North Carolina Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of 50 of Claude Monet's works spanning from the beginning of his career to the end. I took a day off from work and treated myself. What a treat it was … (if you don’t count all those other rude people), in so many ways.
In the late ‘90’s I was fortunate enough to see his Water Lilly Exhibit when I was living in Phoenix. I was blown away by his style. This NC exhibit has more depth as it explored the evolution of his style and subject matter. As a young artist, the French coast served as his muse. For me his ocean waves showed the greatest development of his skill. In his earlier canvases, he worked with curly lines and corkscrews to simulate the action of the waves. Like this:
By the middle of his career he understood the energy of the waves and was able to leave behind his corkscrews and curly lines be more subtle. I think this image shows the full evolution of his talent.
There were several painting from headlands or cliff looking out over the ocean. These views made me homesick for my northern California coast.
Who knew oceans could be so different? The mid and southern Atlantic shore is flat, flat, flat. So are its beaches and ocean. I want “a view” and drama when I see the ocean. If the tree in this painting were a coastal oak or Monterey Juniper, I’d think Monet had been to the Pacific.
Another thing that stuck me about Monet was his ability to let go of the details. (Hmm, I’m sure there’s a life lesson in here.) His earliest work displayed an attention to the little things, but as he grew, he became more interested in capturing the essence of the scene.
Monet often painted the same subject, from the same viewpoint, from different light and weather perspectives. The beauty of the image's essence was brought home to me in this painting. As you look at it, you notice it goes from dark to light as your eye moves from the bottom left corner to the upper right. See how muted the colors – and the architecture are? If you’ve even been in San Joaquin or Sacramento Valley fog, then this surreal rendering is all to familiar. What struck me though was Monet wanted to show me the beauty of the mass and the color gradient, not the architectural detail of this amazing cathedral in Rouen.
At the end of the exhibit my friend and I walked though some of the other galleries. The have a series of paintings of women which always captivate my imagination. Then we moved on to the landscapes. For a few minutes we gazed at the image of Bridal Vail Falls in Yosemite. It was a well executed painting, but it just doesn’t stand up to actually being there. Then we moved into the next room.
On the far wall hung a painting. I caught sight of it from the corner of my eye. I looked away. Then looked back. I turned so I was facing it directly across the expanse of the gallery. I was lost. All sound and extraneous noise dropped away from me. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders, hugging myself, as I gazed at the image. My eyes couldn’t look away. As I sought the horizon I knew I was loosing myself. The picture took on a soft focus effect and I, with out moving a foot, was standing on the edge of this abyss – looking off to the north. Staining with all my might, even leaning slightly forward, so I could be enveloped by this landscape. It seemed I stared for hours, longing rushing through my body. My senses tingled, at one point I closed my eyes, and breathed in. Smmmmm – but only air-conditioning reached my nose. Where was the pungent smell of sage, dusty clay, and the far off elusive smell of rain? I opened my eyes – and they grew misty. I tell you now – if longing could ever return you to a place, I’d still be standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon with the elements washing over me. In that one brief instance I was transported. To another time, another place, another reality. Oh how my heart ached for that county that allows my soul to expand into the vastness of the horizon.
That my dear reader, is why painters paint and gazers gaze. The painter wishes to transport you to another time and place and the gazer wants the magic to work, just one more time.