Wednesday, July 23, 2008
It's almost never true that art is more beautiful than nature. Portraits, still lifes, industrial stuff, abstracts, yes, but your average, or even highly skilled, painting of a natural object or view does not compare to the material thing. Except the Nympheas.
The water lily is a beautiful flower. But Monet's water lilies (he painted 250 canvases during a 30-year obsession) defy description except to say that water and sky and air and flower all respire and inspire together. The colors alone make you want to go half-blind, like Monet was toward the end of his life. Failing that, at least you get to see the ultraviolet light he saw.
A postcard, an art book, a photo in a blog will not do the paintings justice. You have to see them in person. My family and I went to Paris this past March and spent an afternoon in L'Orangerie; the two oval rooms in the interior of the museum were specially built for eight of the Nympheas paintings, which curve along the walls and give the illusion of surrounding you. It was perhaps the greatest art experience of my life (that, and the David in Florence) because the setting is perfect for the masterpiece.
For any other masterpiece of nature, look at a million settings in Maine.