What strikes me at first is their size, taller than i am & each mural filling a section of wall, eight sections in all in two circular rooms–nearly 100 linear meters for those who relate well to numbers.
& though i hate to admit it, my next thought is of wallpaper, circa 1978.
But then the pictures start to move a little, to breathe, breathing the long breath of a pond in summer, a pond in the early days of fall.
Then i hear bird song, wondering which bird sings first on summer mornings at Giverny where Monet painted these scenes. Dawn in French can be said three ways: l’aube & l’aurore & le coucher du soleil. Does the same bird sing last at nightfall?
What’s surprising is that the paintings are so blue–and who knows maybe the birds are blue, too. Shadow & sky are their genii, in all shades of blue. Blue of cloaks, blue of starlight, blue of gravitas & quiet & dragonflies & sleep. All the many blues i want nothing more than to touch, to put on even, but ever-conscious of the museum guards i keep my distance.
Following the devastation of WWI, Monet gave the eight murals to the nation of France on November 12, 1918, one day after the armisitice was signed. They were–& are–symbols of peace. The painter said they were meant to create “an illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon & no shore.” Which is, if you think about it, how peace, in its elemental form, manifests.
The lilies themselves appear in all colors, creamy white of course, but also red, orange, yellow, tinged with green. They fluctuate, they shift, mirroring in a way our moods at various times of day. No wonder they feel like kin, spun of the same cloth as we.
Monet made approximately 250 paintings of water lilies in his last 30 years, during which time his world became cataract-cloudy. Curiously enough what moves me most about the murals at L’Orangerie are the painter’s attentiveness to the effects of sunlight changing throughout a day–Monet’s expertise we might say–but also & more poignantly is the one corner of a mural he left blank, a mural i understand to be depicting evening, paint reaching into but not quite filling the space in the bottom right hand corner…
As though he were acknowledging the silencing of color & light that will overtake us all in time…