Encountering Monet At The Musee d’Orsay

Reading Gadling’s marvelous Museum Month posts has reminded me of a trip I made two decades ago to Paris. I had fallen in love with that exhilarating city in the mid-1970s, when I lived there for two successive summers, first after my junior year in college and then after graduation. I returned in 1988 to celebrate the city, and as part of that celebration, I wanted to write an essay about the poignancy and power of the artworks I had discovered at the Louvre, the Musee Rodin, the Musee de Cluny, the Petit Palais, the Musee d’Orsay, and many other museums and galleries.

First I thought I would write about all the showplaces for art that I liked in Paris, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t possibly do justice to so many places in a compact piece. I had to focus. I considered describing my favorite three museums, then just one museum, then three rooms in that museum, then three favorite pieces of art there. But though I narrowed my focus more and more, every one of these subjects still seemed too broad.

Finally I decided to focus on one painting in one museum, my favorite painting in all of Paris. I installed myself near that painting for about an hour, and scribbled in my journal. I have that journal before me now. Here’s what I wrote.I have been looking at Monet’s “Les coquelicots,” the painting of two women and children walking through a field of bright red poppies on a sunny, cloud-dappled day, for about 40 minutes. It moves me just as profoundly now as it did when I was last in Paris 12 years ago; it still tugs deep within me, cuts through all the layers to something fresh and fundamental and childlike.

At first I stared at it closely, my nose within a foot of the canvas, so close that I could see the black-dot eyes of the child in the foreground – something I had never seen before, or at least never remembered seeing.

Get that close and you reduce the painting to its elements: layers of oil paint on canvas, brush strokes, dabs, tiny tip-tips with the brush. You realize just how fragile a thing a painting is, and just how common. And you realize too that it was made by a man – fragile, common – who stood at the canvas and thought: “a little more red here,” dab, dab; “a cloud there,” push, push; “how can I capture that light?”

Look at the painting closely this way for a few minutes and you break it down into an intricate complexity of colors and textures and forms.

Then step back and – voila! – all of a sudden it is a composed whole, a painting: a cloud-bright sky and poppy-bright field, a woman with a fancy hat and a parasol and a child almost hidden by the tall grasses in the foreground, and in the background another woman and a child almost obscured against a distant stand of trees. They are on a walk, or a picnic – a story begins to compose itself, to take on a life inside and outside the canvas.

And you realize that this is a kind of miracle, that colors and shapes dabbed on a piece of cloth 115 years ago have somehow reached across time and culture to touch you.

Look long enough and feel deeply enough, and your eyes fill with tears.

And when you feel these wet, cool, unexpected tears, you look around you suddenly as if waking from a dream, and see men and women in shorts, blue jeans, dresses and sportcoats, holding guidebooks and pointing at the canvas and sighing, or whispering in passionate appreciation.

You feel strangely displaced – for a moment it was your painting, or rather, you were a part of it, and now you are outside it again – but then you think, “This too is part of the miracle, that one painting can touch so many people.”

You think of art’s extraordinary power, that a scattering of people and poppies in a field can push age, despair, fatigue and cynicism away, can focus you so intensely on this time, this place; that time, that place.
You stand close to the canvas again and see the complexity of colors – the fields all gray, brown, green, yellow-green; the poppies red and pink; the sky a mixture of light and dark blues; the clouds gray, purple, white.

You see that the forms are simple: a gently rolling landscape; smoothly, sparingly suggested people. And that the child in the foreground holds flowers that are almost the same color as the band in his (her?) hat.
You step back one last time and see peace, lightness, a sense of infinite wonder and potential, a childlike purity.

And when you return to the luminous streets you know you will hold that vision in your head, like a handful of flowers on a country-bright day.

You know that you have returned to Paris. You know that, deep inside, you were never away.

[flickr image via biscarotte]

Photo of the Day: raining in Tel Aviv

The rainy day colors and textures of Flickr user Better Nothing Than Almost’s photo caught my eye today. Taken near Tel Aviv, Israel, the blurry drops of water that cling to the window create an impressionist-like effect on the image. I love the hushed color palette, darkening skies and bursts of warm light. It feels eerie yet warm at the same time.

Taken any great travel photos of your own? Why not add them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (10.18.09)

Today’s Photo of the Day pick comes to us from Flickr user Walker Starling, who’s provided us with a beautiful example of macro photography. The crystal-clear detail of the flower in front is contrasted with the soft focus of everything behind it, creating a beautiful dream-like visual effect. The colors are great too: the soft purple of the petals, surrounded by clumps of punchy yellow and vibrant green all combine to create a beautiful landscape. If you didn’t know it was a photo, you might be fooled into thinking it was painted by one of the Impressionists.

Want to have your travel photo considered for Gadling’s Photo of the Day? Submit your best shots here.

Photo of the Day (9-30-09)

This photo taken in New Hampshire by terberman gives me hope that this year’s fall foliage in Ohio will be splendid. Last year’s was a huge disappointment–nothing but green, a tint of yellow and then mottled brown. In order for colors to pop, like these beauties are doing in the northeast, nights need to be cool.

For ideas of where to head for the best colors, here’s a post from Gadling’s archives when Meg did a round-up of favorite foliage destinations. Stay tuned here at Gadling for additional autumn foliage options–more are coming.

Wherever you go, imagine what Monet or Renior might have painted if they were looking through your eyes. Certainly, either one of them would have captured on canvas the essence of terberman’s work that we see here.

If you’ve taken a picture where colors pop, send them our way at Gadling’s Flicker photo pool. One might be chosen as a Photo of the Day.

Five famous fathers: Visit where they lived with their children

For a Father’s Day nod to famous fathers, it seemed apropos to do a post on Father’s Day travel with a twist. Read a biography of famous men and it may take more than a few paragraphs to get to their children. The children seem tucked in between those details that made a man famous. Regardless how much or how little press is given to the offspring, there are landmarks where these men lived with the people who helped keep their legacies alive.

Although these are the sites we head to to find out about what made these men tick as contributors to the rest of us, they are also the places that children called home, and where the men who might have tucked them in at night were called “Dad” (or “Papa,” or “Father” or “Pops” or some other variation) by those people whose tiny hands they once held in their own.

Here are five men through history who have had an influence on the world and where you can visit where they lived with their children. From humble houses to elaborate palaces, here are five places where you can imagine the varied conversations that happened within the walls–the type that only fathers and children share.

1. Henry VIII (Religion)–Hampton Court Palace, London. This Tudor palace is where King Henry 8th of England, with a penchant for beheading his wives, lived the most. It’s a gorgeous piece of architecture with a fascinating history and a remarkable maze in the garden. Henry’s three children used this palace as a haven after they became adults as well. Son Edward was christened in the chapel and Mary spent her honeymoon here. Henry died when Edward was nine. The two daughters were older. Henry’s desire to divorce his wives led to the England’s shift away from Roman Catholicism.

2. Abraham Lincoln (Politics)–Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois. This is a hallmark year to visit the house where Lincoln lived with his family prior to becoming president. Take a guided walk in the neighborhood where Lincoln took strolls, probably with sons Robert, Willie and Tad (son Edward died.) Lincoln brought the North and South back together.

3. Claude Monet (Art)–Monet’s House and Gardens, Giverny, France. Monet moved to this lovely farm with his family and lived here for 43 years. Here he painted is famous works connected to Impressionism and provided a haven of art and creativity for his brood made up of eight children. When you look at Monet’s studio where he painted, inspired by the garden on the property, imagine what his children saw and how the smell of paint and flowers were prominent in their lives.

4. Martin Luther King Jr.(Civil Rights)–Dexter Parsonage Museum, Montgomery, Alabama. Visit the house where Martin Luther King Jr. lived where he was a young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist church. This is where he was living with his four children and wife when someone threw a bomb onto the porch. You can still see the damage. No one was hurt. The house looks as if the King family just stepped outside for a moment. It’s a step back in time for sure. King’s message of equality provides hope and drive to those who are struggling for equal rights. If it wasn’t for him, and those who rallied behind his words, where would we be?

5. Elvis Presley (Music and Popular Culture) Memphis, Tennessee–Graceland. No matter what a person thinks of the over-the-top decor of Graceland, it’s the place where Elvis felt at home and he lived with his wife Priscilla and daughter, Lisa Marie until Priscilla moved out, taking Lisa Marie with her. Still, this is the home where Lisa Marie can still go to remember her dad who made a big time impact on popular culture and music. The photo is of Lisa Marie’s swing set in the back yard.