The day I met Monet
And fell in love with French garden at the MoMA.
I can remember it clearly. It was summer last year that I was in New York. Me and my wife were just married and the Big Apple was the destination of our honeymoon. She wanted to visit all NYC’s touristic venues like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 memorial, the Brooklyn Bridge and all the other places where you get ripped off being a tourist.
For me, my bucket list was a bit shorter. I just wanted to hang out in Central Park, eat a good hot dog or hamburger, watch some comedy at the Apollo and visit the MoMa.
We turned out to do all of that and a whole lot more. For two weeks we analyzed about every corner, every brick of Manhattan. Sure, there were many highlights (and the Empire State Building was most certainly not one of them), most of them were just happy little moments like eating breakfast in Bryant Park with your newlywed spouse, getting lost in Central Park, shopping for some vintage rubbish in Brooklyn or having a damn good burger with a local brewed ale.
I found out that there was a significant relation between the line of people waiting and the quality of the experience. The more people waiting in line for the activity, the lamer it often was.
But there was one clear exception waiting for me at the MoMa. Although I had to stand half an hour in line between dozens of Korean looking folks, it was all to be forgotten the moment I stepped into the room with the Water Lilies of Monet.
A dazzling experience
When I think back of my visit to the MoMA (it was my first time in New York, even my first time in the US), I don’t remember much of it. Sure, I’ve passed a Lichtenstein, saw the beautiful Starry Night of Van Gogh, I partly remember looking at the snow shovel of Duchamp, but it all blurred away by what I encountered walking in that room with the water lilies.
I hope you recognize that feeling as if you are being absorbed into a painting. You are not just looking at it, you are experiencing it.
Monet does just that with you. In that painting of the water lilies there is no horizon, no point of reference, nothing to grab for. It’s just the shimmering reflection of what looks like a cloud or a tree in blossom in the royal blue and sparkling puddle of water. The vibrant colors surround you, you just don’t know where to start looking.
As you step forward towards the painting, you see thick blobs of paint. As if you are looking to an abstract work of Jack the Dripper. Then you take a few steps back, standing just behind the bench in front of the painting, by then you see how beautifully Monet captured a very natural scenery. The strokes of light, the difference in colors, the suggestion of movement.
For a moment I could feel the temperature, smell the flowers, hear the bees zoom and the birds twitter.
It was as if I was there… As if I was teleported from NYC to Giverny, a small village in the northern of France, where I was roaming through the lush botanics.
It was as if I was there with Monet the very moment he made the painting. Looking over his shoulder while he fearlessly applied those big blobs of paint to the canvas.
Back to reality
Now, none of this really happened. That afternoon I was not teleported back to Europe. And I did not, in fact, met Monet that day.
Or maybe I did for a bit.
Maybe I did met Monet in its true essence. A rendez vouz with the artist on a way he meets thousands of people every day around the world.
Those moments for me define art. When you encounter works like that in real life you experience something indescribable. You know from that moment you’ve acquired yourself a new lifelong memory. It’s it in no way as volatile like much in life has become. It was a defining moment in what was one the best weeks of my life.
Even after you’ve left the museum you still are whistling, walking around with a big smile on your face, looking like a mental patient. But you don’t mind cause for hours the world is smiling back at you, so you give fat tips to any homeless guy you meet, you want to make up with lost friends and quit your day job to refurbish an old farmyard somewhere Mediterranean.
Now, almost a year later, Monet has his moment on the art market. This spring Sotheby’s in New York will auction 6 of his works, which combined will realize somewhere about 78 million dollars (some even say he will top 100 million).
The sale will include Monets views of Venice, the Seine, the coast of Normandy and… one of the water lilies (or in French: Nymphéas) he made in Giverny. A painting he made in te same period as he made the astonishing work that had overwhelmed me at the MoMA.
Monet made about 18 paintings of water lillies in that period. He had by then set up shop in Giverny. It was the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Monet became old and had found a place of rest, a place where he, his wife and kids could stay. The years before, he had been traveling non-stop, on the search for inspiration. But all that traveling became heavier as the years increased. So he perched in the northern of France. Next to his studio he had constructed a large garden with a pond. And in that garden he wanted to put a crown on his career.
However his ambitions were still high, his sight became less. To cope with his limited view on perspective he began to make ‘reflective paintings’ like the one at the MoMA. There are several paintings which have no clear sky nor a horizon. In retrospective I think this gives the paintings their ‘absorbing’ quality and is no way a shortcoming to his work.
The lion‘s share of his work made in Giverny that time is now exhibited in the major museums around the globe. Only this spring one of the Nymphéases will change private hands. I’m still waiting on my bonus this year, but I doubt it will reach the amount needed to purchase this painting (only a difference of a few 0's). It will approximately be sold for about 30–40 million dollars. So I will be taking it from another angle.
Meeting Monet again
I will plan my holiday later this year for me and my wife. And I will hold forth that we go to the Northern of France. Just like the year of my honeymoon I will travel with a short bucket list. All I want is to get lost in those gardens of Giverny again and meet Monet in its true essence.
I do believe my bonus will cover our travel expenses.
By George Vlug | @byvincent_
Check out more stories about art in the art story boutique VINCENT at www.byvincent.org.