Thursday, December 1, 2011

on painting in Monet's Gardens

Kristina Wentzell, eiffel tower, gouache.  ©1986

“Go and paint.  You have 2 hours to finish.” the instructor told us

I was standing in the middle of Giverny, Monet’s Gardens, next to the pond and the arched green bridge depicted in so many of his masterpieces.

I was eighteen years old, just out of high school, and away from home for the first time.  I was on a four week adventure studying painting and drawing in France with Parsons School of Design.

Kristina Wentzell, chartres, gouache.  ©1986

The weeks had been going by in a blur of intense work, the sights, smells, and sounds of the south of France, ancient cave art, crumbling castles, arid scrubby landscapes with the scent of lavender.  And then on to Paris where we spent the days riding in subways through the hectic, busy city, visiting all the grand museums, cathedrals, flea markets, the Seine, outdoor cafes and now to here.


I had been working hard and steadily the whole trip.  Making huge artistic progress and reveling in every moment. I had painted in the Louvre, in the countryside of the Dordogne, inside Notre Dame, at the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine, in French parks and along roadsides.

Kristina Wentzell, along the Seine, gouache.  ©1986

But here in these revered gardens I was frozen for the first time.  It didn’t help that we had just visited the L’Orangerie and had seen Monet’s water lilies up close. 

Painted near the end of his life when Monet was almost blind, the canvases were huge and covered with layer upon layer of thick, impasto brushwork.  Up close, they were completely abstract. Standing back, they came to life as watery landscapes dotted with lilies.  And they were impossibly beautiful.

And here I was looking at that same watery landscape.  I can do this.  I can do this, I tell myself.

I take a deep breath and pick up my paint brush.

water lilies by Claude Monet

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