I found myself staring at La Seine at Argenteuil in the "Impressionists on the Water" special exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum. I don't know how long I was in front of the painting. It wasn't until another patron walked up to my side, that I realized I had been staring (dead center, taking up prime space. terrible gallery etiquette!) I was in a trance, a smile stuck on my face and my heart swelling from the beautiful image before me.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was fortunate enough to see "Monet in the 20th Century" at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. As a fourteen year old, I didn't realize the significance of the show, (Boston being one of the first American cities to appreciate Monet and continue to do so during his career and after his death) but eventually I regarded the experience as life changing...
Here's the story:
When I started high school, my elective was Band. At that point in my arts "career," I had played piano for a couple of years then took up the flute in fifth grade. By the end of middle school I was playing the equivalent of first chair. I had friends in band and enjoyed the sense of community. The catch was, if you were in concert band, you had to also be in marching band. I spent the summer learning how to march, memorizing the music and the steps I had to take to complete the performance.
Then in October, my Mom and Nana planned to take me into the big city to the Museum of Fine Arts on a Friday night. It would be a girls' night, Nana traveling from Long Island the day before, and we would take the train and everything! But that meant I'd have to miss a football game. And as a marching band student, I'd have to sacrifice an entire letter grade if I missed the performance.
I didn't want to do it. But I did.
Eventually we talked to my guidance counselor. And I switched into Art...
A print of Iris, complete with the date of the show, has hung in every bedroom I've lived in since 1998.
What I loved then about Iris was that Monet was painting abstractly, losing his sight and dealing with, most likely, post traumatic stress after going to war. I sympathized... I was battling the unexpected death of my father. And like Monet, had turned to art, and poetry, as a release.
What I love about it now, as its one of the first things I see when I wake up, is that there is always something new. Browns that I have never noticed, or pinks that only emerge in certain light. I have to remind myself of the title some days. I find the painting enchanting.
And, it holds a wonderful memory. One that has changed the course of my life.
Almost 16 years later, I have again been inspired by Monet. This time as a relatively new painter. I think, no matter how cliche, I've always wanted to paint like an Impressionist. I find myself getting caught up in clean brush strokes and blending though. Perhaps now I will find a way to let it go and get a little more gestural with my painting, more like my drawing. Either way, I now have a beautiful, matted print of La Seine at Argenteuil that I plan to hang next to Iris.
Side note, the Peabody Essex Museum is FREE for teacher's with MTA cards!