In March 2018, I had an opportunity to travel to France for the 2018 Women Techmakers Summit. To do justice to the 10-hour flight, I decided to reserve four days to travel around the city, making the most of our time while there. Unlike most Europe tours which take visitors to different countries in a rather rushed-up manner, I had four days to explore just Paris and places nearby, which is a gift, for I believe every country has its own vibe to it and a day is just not enough to capture the different shades and spices of it alone.
Here was a city I always believed to be overrated, but the first sight of which made me fall silent. Open streets, cafés with outdoor seating and long horizontal sheds on them, unexpected rains, classic buildings- in Paris all loves recur, retell, refix. But one thing stood out. Art. There is art on the streets, be it in the form of graffiti, road signs or fashion. The first day of our stay in France, my mother and I took a guided tour to Giverny, a small village in the Normandy region of northern France within the valley of river Seine, a 1.5-hour drive from the heart of the city. The place is known for the home of French impressionist Claude Monet, who stayed there from 1883 until his death in 1926. It is Giverny which provided him with the essential inspiration to continue with his works, specifically the famous lily pond which caused him to create a series of paintings of water lilies under different light conditions, which he created by observing them at varying seasons and times of the day. While in the car, the driver and the guide, a fortyish French lady, talked to us about his life and works, the scenes outside the car slowly transitioning from the bustling city streets to the quiet countryside.
Monet was born in 1840 in Paris, and his mother supported him in his passion to become an artist. His eyes fell upon Giverny while looking outside the window of his train coach. He was so inspired that he decided to move there. Slowly establishing his stronghold over the rented house, he bought the land and created magnificent gardens surrounding it. The gardens of Giverny show up in either form or in inspiration in most of his paintings such as the Clos Normand which now has a famous cider named after it, the archways, the lily pond, the water from Epte, and the many heavy floral landscapes consisting of azaleas, rhododendrons, climbers entwined with red coloured leaves, roses and apple shrubs.
Through this journal, I would like to provide an analysis of impressionism in art through my experiences at Monet’s gardens in Giverny. To provide background, impressionism is a 19th-century art movement which originated in Paris, aiming to picture ordinary subject matter with emphasis on thin brush strokes, unusual visual angles and focus on movement as an important part of human experience which needs to be captured. But more than that, impressionism also encouraged experimentation with light and juxtaposition of the same imagery painted in different variants of light such as day and night, summer and winter and so on.
One of the most conspicuous scenes I observed in Giverny was the stark contrast between Monet’s house and the others in the village. The rows of brick-walled houses in the village resonate a streak of consistent dull, bleak gray colour against Monet’s house, which oddly flaunts bright pink walls with fluorescent green windows. Even the inside of his house has a beautiful concoction of colour- the dining room entirely yellow, the kitchen coloured in shades of blue, the bedroom a light shade of green complete with a flower vase and Monet’s paintings on the wall, the living room a mix of fawn and cream against brightly coloured carpets and brown furniture, flowery curtains opening to windows of an endless stream of green and red.
It is Monet’s sincerity to life and energy coupled with his opposition to dull colour that kept him from using blacks or browns in his paintings in his entire career. Visiting his house in Giverny lent even more substance to ideology, his painting style translating into his daily life- the walls and decor of his own house. Currently doing a course in human-computer interaction and design, I can see how Monet’s colour theory has affected UI/UX design today, bright colour combinations slowly making their way back to website templates and web graphics.
The second most conspicuous imagery I came across was the subtle shadowplay in Monet’s dense gardens and the reflections of the trees on the lake water. Needless to say, this shows up in his paintings too.
Likening my ideas to philosophy, it is a well-established school of philosophy that acknowledges the difference between reality and impressions. The existence of objective reality has been well questioned and discarded as a mere conceptualization or as being unattainable by many philosophers. Hume’s philosophy majorly relies on impressions and ideas, which he believes to be pale copies of the outside world. The impressionists thought along the same lines. They regarded the actual subject as being different from what humans registered and took it one step further to bringing out a distinction between what the eye perceived and what the brain understood it to be. They did not want to paint realistic art, rather capture the optical effects of light. Monet’s “Vetheuil in the Fog”, considered one of his finest, is a vague impression of a figural form. The momentary impression is crystallized in the form of optical experiences registered in the painting.
Monet’s gardens were indeed a beautiful experience at this time of year when spring was slowly ascending its feet towards the French countryside, the trees patiently awaiting fresh blossoms, the brook flowing under the bridge dreaming of the strong glint of summer sun upon its waters. The chance trip firmed by the appreciation for art and culture. The souvenir shop adjacent to the gardens replete with bookmarks, pocket mirrors, postcards, handbags, wall art, notebooks, fridge magnets and so on with Monet’s paintings pressed upon them and the brasserie, Les Nymphéas with inverted umbrellas and carefully crafted white chairs in the open ensured that even as we were leaving, Giverny continues to remain a beautifully ornate, impressionable memory in our minds for the years to come.