I had made the trip to Vancouver last week to the Vancouver Art Gallery to be in the company of one of the great Impressionists, correction THE one who set that movement in motion Claude Monet, and not wanting to miss this rare opportunity before his show closed in October. I was alone, and could take all the luscious time I desired.
I would slowly go to each work, get in right up close to exam brush strokes, standing far back to allow the work to do what it was supposed to do. That is, as it is Impressionist, it gives the viewer impressions of the subject matter. That when viewed from a distance becomes clear and whole, the human eye filling in the image so to speak, the atmosphere, movement and play of light give the work structure and form and rich depth.
Of course this style is most expressed later on in his career, becoming nearly abstract towards the end- which kind of heralded in Modern Expressionist. I also find it curious too that Monet suffered from cataracts in mid-life and required eye surgery. Just sayin’.
His early work is more realist, and traditional, and he was an astonishingly prolific painter, painting several series of the same subject in different light or seasons.
So I approached the exhibition with anticipation and openness, I mean The Water Lilies! Monet! I am going to see them live! I was excited to experience them up close.
I arrive in the room of the Nymphéas and there they are! Yes. I stand at the entrance way as I take them in before focusing on each one separately and what slowly seeps to the forefront of my thoughts is “Hmmph.” I stand several minutes. I then approach one painting up close. I fall back across the room and look again. I can’t believe that I feel underwhelmed. Is it me? Yeah, of course. It’s got to be, because this is a master’s work. And although I studied fine art and consider myself an artist, I wasn’t getting it. Which is the most benighted thing to say about any artists’ work.
I wasn’t impressed.
But I stayed with them,wanting to see what I thought I was going to see. And to be clear, I was still humbled and in awe of seeing these masterpieces, I am certainly not arrogant enough to poo-poo these incredible works. But I only saw muddy and flat, and without atmosphere. Ok, no matter, they are Monet’s and I love that I was in the same room with them regardless of my inept sensitivity. I turn and study his Japanese Bridge, and the Rose Arbors, and the Weeping Willow all painted from his beautiful huge Giverny garden. I stand back and raise my iPhone to a painting of his Rose Arbor because of course I have to take photographs.- It’s Monet!
And as I bring the iPhone ( camera) up to my eyes a surprising thing happened. As I’m looking at the image of the painting in my iPhone that image suddenly comes alive- I mean with that rich depth-ness and color. My eye goes back and forth between painting on the wall and the painting image in my iPhone and they are completely different. From flat and muddy to rich depth and color. I am amazed and confused (ok, true that is my usual state anyway) and after taking the photo I proceed through all the paintings looking at them through my iPhone seeing them all transformed. It was weird.
I think to myself Oh, this is how they are supposed to look. I am pulled in to the paintings like I was expecting. I did notice the lighting in my iPhone was different too as soon as I lifted it in front of the paintings opposed to the gallery lighting. I did nothing to change anything as far as settings or flash go, but it was definitely different. So there’s me walking around with my bloody iPhone in front of my face like a tech addict tourist looking at a master’s work.
Yet later when I viewed the photographs on my phone and downloaded them onto my computer they reverted back to what I saw in person. Ah well.
In his later life as his work became more expressionist there is one painting, again of his pond in his Giverny home garden. It was so very modern and vivacious, I loved it.
When researching his work online later at home I came across what I thought was a similar painting to the one above- too similar in fact but they didn’t quite match up. Same style, even the colors, but couldn’t place it. Until I turned the painting upside down. The photograph of the one I took in the gallery that is. As you will notice the gallery painting displays the little gold “tag” if you will on the lower edge of the frame, so of course this is the correct hanging. Yet every image I found online, from what I could assume were legit sites (Online/Legit Info oxymoron alert) showed the work turned the other way. As I show in the image below.
So I called the Gallery. They said I wasn’t the first person to point this out, but that the curator has said the paintings came direct from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris which happens to have the largest collection of Monet in the world. Alrighty then.
I have plans to return one more time to the gallery with Bob before the exhibition ends, to see it with new eyes, and fresh perspective. Have a closer look at that expressionist lily pond. Until then ~
Claude Monet, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2017 .The Rose Bush 1925