lose yourself


I had no time to properly assemble the planned Question Time for this week, so here's a "filler" that feels like the right tonic for my frazzled, worn out mind. It's been the sort of week that makes me want to cast my mind to calmer waters, and so I'm casting mine to Les Nymphéas.

I remember the first time I saw Claude Monet's waterlilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie. I was 14. I was more respectful than moved by the paintings, intrigued but just a little immune to the layout in the oval rooms. One of my flaws is my tendency to be sceptical about things people fawn over, and this was never more true than when I was a teenager.

That was 1998. In 2000, the Musée de l'Orangerie closed for extensive works, and reopened six years later. Les Nymphéas were moved to a newly-created upper level so that they could be shown under skylights, as Monet had intended. That, I decided, was an interesting enough reason to pay them a second visit on my trip to Paris last year.

The Les Nymphéas rooms are the first thing you see after you buy your ticket at the museum. You walk across a bridge into the a empty circular room painted white, a room to "cleanse" you of the outside world, we were told.

Entering the first of two oval chambers is like being immersed in water. The most peaceful moments I've experienced are underwater. Walking into the room, I felt the same kind of deep calm. Time slows, the immediate world vanishes. The rooms were quite quiet the day we visited. I stepped into a space of cool, dappled light, diffused through the screened skylights, and we were surrounded by the four paintings that span the room, in colours I seemed to feel rather than see.

Sitting there, looking at the paintings, you have to fall in love with Monet's ambition - to capture the magic of the outdoors he loved so much. No photograph, poster, video etc can reproduce the sensation of being there, invited to sit and admire what he so masterfully caught on canvas.

The second room is my preferred room of the two. Intended to create the sensation of standing on the Japanese bridge of his famous garden in Giverny, the colours are cooler but the feelings it evoke are no less vivid - like you have truly left the familiar physical world, immersed in the sensation of light and air. I'm going to sound terribly affected, but truly, if there was ever a room that could move me to tears, this was it.

Why Les Nymphéas left such a deep impression on me this time round, I can't offer a good explanation. The natural light may have something to do with - previously, in a completely enclosed room on the lower floor, you can't escape the feeling of being shut in. We were also lucky to hit the museum at a quiet hour, and had the luxury of relative privacy.

Or perhaps with the passing of time, I've develop the patience appreciate it better.

You can take a virtual tour here on the Orangerie's website. Or even better, leave it to your imagination, and be surprised.

Happy weekend everyone, and Question Time will be back next Friday.


Vittoria said…
I had the same kind of feelings when I visited the Musée de l'Orangerie two years ago: a sense of peace, calm and cheerfulness pervaded me. I am deeply in love with Monet's paintings and so I'm a bit partial to them, but I strongly recommend everyone a visit to this little precious museum.

indigo16 said…
Well I learn something new every day, I had no idea the paintings had been moved, the last time I saw them I was feeling very fragile and so just lay on the bench for half an hour. The room was so stifling and claustrophobic I gave up and left, so I am super pleased someone saw sense and moved them.
I really think more galleries should embrace the natural light, let’s face it so much is painted outside why not? The really, really brilliant part for me is I have booked a day out in Paris early in April, so I will definitely go and see them in their new home.
petrichore said…
I got to see a traveling Monet exhibit in Las Vegas in 2004--it was really incredible! The gallery was no where as nearly well designed as a permanent installation like the Musee de l'Orangerie, but still the paintings were breath-taking.

minima/maxima, a blog about minimalist style
Cato said…
Wonderful posting, once again! And once again it was similar for me.. I was there for the first time only last fall - don't know - I really like Monet but those huge pictures never seemed that tempting to me. As you said, they don't transfer well into print, I expected them to be more quantity than quality if that makes sense. Then I went there and unfortunately it was really crowded, I even had to wait a little to be let in, moreover very hot, busy day... I seriously dislike overcrowded museums and in the first room it totally blocked me. I found it "really nice" and so, but that was it. Then entered the second room and I was just as captivated as you describe it! I don't really remember if there were less people, probably, but I also think it was due to the colours. I spent soo much time there just looking at the pictures as a whole, and also studying the details (which are amazing!). Then went back to the first room and was able to experience that one in a similar way. I felt so relaxed afterwards! Anyways, thanks for sharing your story!!:)
Jenny said…
Lovely piece, Lin. Reading it gave me a sensation very close to what you describe about your own experience. Thanks for this.
Anonymous said…
I remember the first time I saw it, I was sixteen. I was overwhelmed and at some point I even had the privilege to be alone in the second room.
Alice said…
I wish that plug-in worked on my computer to see the video!
lin said…
Vittoria: I like Monet very much as well, so I'm definitely partial as well, but I think the layout of the rooms is an experience any art fan shouldn't miss!

indigo16: I am deeply envious of how much good art you have access to - saw your Lucien Freud post, haha. And Paris is near enough for a short trip for you too!

petrichore: I like Monet very much - I feel like a lot of contemporary painting owes so much to him, and in his own way he is still matchless.

Cato: Thanks! I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt a bit let down the first time. I suppose this means anyone who's seen them in the old setting needs to see them again.

Jenny: Thanks!

Anon: It's amazing when you're lucky enough to be alone or with very few people around.

Alice: Oh dear! Perhaps on another computer..?
K. said…
It is probably the single, most beautiful inner space on earth. The paintings are even more dreamy and transcendental than the gardens in Giverny themselves... xx

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