I had made the trip to Vancouver last week to the Vancouver Art Gallery to be in the company of one of the greats of the Impressionists, Claude Monet. In fact, he was the father of that movement.
I was on my own, and could take all the luscious time I desired.
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..
In his later stages in life Monet’s paintings became clearly abstract. And this could’ve been either a natural progression from repetitive study of the same subject matter (how far can the artist push and play with a particular subject), or the fact Monet suffered with cataracts all through his adult life. That this may have affected his work may be a moot point, but development towards abstraction in his later work was the catalyst that heralded in the next big movement- Modern Expressionism.
So I approached the exhibition with anticipation and openness, I mean The Water Lilies! Monet! I am going to see them live!
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 painting individually. I went to each piece moving up close to exam brush strokes, the textures of paint, movement. It was almost like touching Monet’s hand that held the brush. Then I moved way back to view it from a distance, to watch as the painting gained clarity, becoming clear and whole as the human eye takes over to fill in and blend the brush strokes to create the atmosphere, the movement and play of light, its structure and form and rich depth-and what slowly seeps to the forefront of my thoughts is “Hmmph.”
I stand several minutes. I approach one painting, closely then I fall back across the room and look again. I can’t believe that I feel underwhelmed. Is it me? Yeah, of course it is. 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.
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 dismiss these incredible works. But I only saw muddy and flat, 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, dense sensitivity. I turn and study his Japanese Bridge, and the Rose Arbors, and the Weeping Willow all painted from within 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 painting suddenly becomes alive. That rich depth-ness and colour, it appears. 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, 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, 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 taken photographs on my phone and then downloaded them onto my computer they reverted back to what I saw with my naked eye. Flat and kinda muddy.
No matter, I was absolutely enthralled and enraptured to be in the same room with these masterpieces. So appreciative that there is this amazing world class gallery bringing great works to my doorstep.
An aside to this moment with Monet is this painting below that was in the Vancouver show, one of Monet’s later pieces of his pond within his Giverny home garden, and which illustrates how abstract his work had become.
While researching his work online later at home I came across what I thought was a similar painting to the one painting I took a photo of at the gallery- too similar in fact but they didn’t quite match up. Same brushstrokes, colours, but couldn’t place it. Until I turned my photograph of the painting (above) upside down.
As you will notice the gallery painting I saw in Vancouver displays the little gold “Title tag” on the lower middle bottom 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, by turning my photo image upside down. Both positions actually work, so I can understand the confusion.
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. The consensus is whomever had initially put up the online image put it upside down and all other online sites merely copied it as is. Ah abstracts.