Finding Monet in Paris
When my littlest girl and I visited Paris for the first time together she wanted to eat lots of cake (she’s a baker by trade) and I wanted to see The Water Lilies*. I’m pretty sure she only let me drag her along to an art gallery to keep me happy, but she’s sweet like that. Cake obviously wins over museums on any day of the week.
But this was Paris.
And my love affair with Monet’s paintings has been a long, slow-burning affair that has spanned a lifetime.
There’s a beautiful place on the edge of the Jardins des Tuileries called the Musée de l’Orangerie. Inside this beautiful place are eight even more beautiful paintings - eight from a series of 250 water lily paintings, known as Les Nymphéas. I can’t even begin to imagine the dedication taken to paint 250 panels as huge as these. Before visiting, I wondered if a whole gallery of paintings of the same subject might be… well… a little monotonous, but I was so very wrong. The light in the paintings changes throughout the panels, from the soothing blues of a bright summer’s day, to the warm oranges of a sunset reflected on the water. The pictures curve around the walls and completely envelop you in Monet’s world, moving you through a watery landscape punctuated with water lilies, willow branches and reflections clouds. As Monet put it, the gallery creates "the illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore".
It turns out that there’s a reason these paintings look so perfect in this setting. Claude Monet himself worked with the architect, Camille Lefèvre, to design the gallery. It is built on an east-west axis, with the paintings echoing the orientation of the building. The panels with sunrise hues are to the east and those with sunset hues are to the west. On sunny days natural light floods in from the ceiling windows, filling the gallery and lighting up the paintings. On a cloudy day the light is muted so the paintings change and flux according to the weather.
The way Monet uses light and colour to evoke an impression of the places he paints speaks to me. Probably because it is something that my eternally short-sighted brain can easily relate to. Whatever the reason, his paintings fill me with joy and peace, especially in this serene and beautiful Orangerie gallery, with its overwhelming atmosphere of peace and tranquillity
*Obviously, we went up the Eiffel Tower, as well as eating cake and drinking in the Monets. After all, no one can visit Paris for the first time without going to the top of the Eiffel Tower!