Have you ever lived in a moment so beautiful you didn’t want it to end?
I have. Here’s one I’ll never forget.
On my first visit to Chicago, I couldn’t wait to go to the Art Institute of Chicago. Standing in the atrium there, I pored over the museum map to strategize my day and then went off in search of the French Impressionists.
I’d loved the Impressionists since my art appreciation class in school. When the instructor turned down the lights to show the slides of the art, other students dozed off, but I sat up. Those masterpieces grabbed my attention. And held it.
The Impressionists, a group of Paris-based artists who exhibited their work independently of the art establishment at the time, became well-known in the 1870s and 1880s. These artists caused quite a stir—and not a good one—with their new way of painting.
One art critic tried to insult them by calling the new movement “impressionism.” The term stuck and later became anything but an insult.
So, here I was, in this museum that seriously seems miles-long, in the Impressionist wing that’s room after room of masterpieces. I slowly worked my way through the paintings we studied in class, and I was just in awe. I’m pretty sure my eyes widened and my mouth fell open every few minutes. A Renoir here, a Manet and Van Gogh over there, a Seurat Sunday in the park, and more.
Then, there it was: Monet’s “Water Lilies”, painted in 1906, one of a series of paintings of his pond in Giverny, France.
I sucked in my breath. This was my very favorite work from class. From ever!
No slide in a class or photograph in a book could have prepared me for the beauty before me now. I was actually seeing the original with my own eyes. Close up and personal.
It was even more beautiful than I imagined.
Other visitors milled about, but for those few moments, it was just me and the painting. The water of the pond was a blue that made me want to dive deep into it. It reflected both the sky and the trees surrounding one side of the pond. The pink and white lilies on the pads stood out, as though the sun chose them specifically to grace with its light. The peaceful scene made me forget the bustling city outside and transported me to a grassy bank in Giverny a century ago.
How did Monet have the ability to do this? Where did that ability come from? What made him stick to creating his paintings when critics were laughing at and denigrating his and his colleagues’ art? Would I have been so dedicated to my work?
Thank goodness Monet was! He created many works of beauty that millions of people through the last century and a half have enjoyed. And standing in the front of this one that day, I was profoundly moved--deeply grateful for the artist’s gift, the opportunity to see it first-hand, and the original scene in Giverny that inspired it.
Have you ever had an experience with art like this? Leave a comment below and let me know.
To learn more about the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, click here.