Mad Enchantment - Monet, in Paris
Imagine if Monet or Van Gogh were alive now, some buffoon telling him, 'I have one your paintings on my coffee mug at home.' It defies imagination, doesn't it.
The commodification of art aside, I was fortunate to be in Paris with my family for a few days last month. We took a pilgrimage to Musée de L'Orangerie, which houses Monet's magnificent Water Liliy decorátions, donated to the French state in 1926.
As part of my preparation for the Paris trip, I read Ross King's, Mad Enchantment - Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. The book is not only a story of love and devotion between an artist and his craft, but also one of love and friendship between Monet and Georges Clemenceau, the two time French president who practically willed Monet on to the completion of the work.
Extraordinarily, not only did Monet devote over a decade to the project, he didn't begin work on the panels until he was already in his mid-seventies! As is well-known now, Monet worked through failing eyesight. In 1922/23, when he was eighty-two, he underwent cataract surgery. The operation involved having cocaine shot into his eye as an anaesthetic, and afterwards he was made to lay still in bed, eyes bandaged and without a pillow, for thirty-eight days.
The positive results of the surgery were not immediate. Distraught by the imagined paucity of his work, Monet destroyed upwards of 60 of his canvases. Some of his late paintings of the Japanese Bridge at Giverny were painted when he was legally blind in one eye, with only 10% vision in the other. A number of these canvases fall into abstraction, and to my mind, they represent some of the most beautiful and moving art in existence.
This was my second visit to the museum. On my first visit I was just about moved to tears, not so much by the work's beauty (though that would have been reasonable), but by the devotion, the sacrifice that went into making these enormous panels.
On this visit, my wife and I took our kids, aged 8 and 10. Did they appreciate the art in the way I might have hoped? Not really. I doubt I'd have appreciated it at that age either. Still, the trip was far from a loss for them. Seeing these works will, I expect, create a bookmark in one or both boy's imagination. To not grasp their significance now doesn't preclude recognition, even awe later.