When I was about 13 or 14, I became completely and utterly obsessed with the Impressionism movement from the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, particularly smitten by the work of Claude Monet. I learned how to paint by copying masterpieces from the likes of Monet and Van Gogh, and have always felt an incredible and inexplicable closeness to their paintings. They saw beauty the way I strive to.
Impressionism is just that: an impression. The quickness of light, shadows fading, footsteps falling, hushed laughter… life is made up of a series of brief, shimmering moments, each different from the one before. Monet sought to capture these changes in the light by painting the same scenes over and over in varying times of day and season: haystacks, cathedrals, and of course, the famous waterlilies. He was a manly man with a Santa Claus white beard (Nick said he looked like a train conductor upon seeing a photo of him for the first time) who captured the tenderness of the French countryside of Giverny in such painstakingly beautiful brushstrokes… it is no wonder he is one of the most beloved artists of all time.
I’m back in the States now after a whirlwind of Parisian romance, art, and wine. My week with Nick in the City of Lights was filled to the brim with as much life as we could muster. In retrospect, I wish there had been more quiet afternoons drinking espresso and playing chess in a coffeeshop, listening to rain pummle the cobblestone outside. However, because this was our first time in the city, we set out to see and do as much as we could. Tourist Mode was in full effect. From the Moulin Rouge to the Louvre to ordering snails for dinner to escaping gypsies on the Metro, we squeezed as much as we could out of the experience. Many memories were made and laughter was shared. I truly had the time of my life. The highlight, of course, was the art.
When I was 17, I rounded the corner in an obscure art museum in Spain and saw my first Monet painting in person. It brought tears to my eyes, as my heart was deeply stirred by the man behind the brush that inspired an art revolution, and changed the way I view art and life. That emotion was nothing compared to visiting Monet’s garden and waterlilies in Giverny this past week and wandering the streets of Montmartre, the art district of Paris where Monet and Cézanne and Van Gogh all wandered a century before me. I tried to see Paris the way Monet saw it: shimmering lights, the reflections of trees passing swiftly in rain puddles beneath my feet, steaming baguettes peaking out of peacoats and bicycles. A series of beautiful moments.
Two favorite memories stand out from the rest. The first was watching Nick, an art and overall life lover to be sure but not someone who previously knew a lot about Impressionism, become fascinated and captivated by it as as the week progressed. While walking through Musée d’Orsay, which does a great job of highlighting the Impressionism movement and is much more digestible than the Louvre, Nick was able to recognize and compare the different artist’s work. He developed a keen understanding, love, and appreciation for the same paintings that have whispered to my heart my whole life. This meant more to me than I could possibly even begin to describe.
Secondly, I was able to sneak away from our crazy tourist adventures for a half hour to sit in front of the Eiffel Tower and do a quick painting of it before twilight approached. Shivering, oblivious to everything around me, I brushed my watercolors across a paper and captured a quick impression of this famed icon of beauty and romance. Just like Monet.
Paris, you stole my heart, just as I always knew you would.