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Les Nymphéas by Claude Monet at Musée de l'Orangerie

Soleil Couchant – Les Nymphéas by Claude Monet at Musée de l’Orangerie.

I do not consider myself an artistic person. My definition of an artistic soul is someone who can see beauty in the different shades of grey between black and white. Growing up, I was very much a black or white kinda gal. Call it naivety, call it idealism.  I believed that everything belonged in its own little box – black or white. I believed that black was bad, and white was good, and that good would always triumph over evil. I believed in ‘white’ so strongly that I never allowed myself to explore the shades of grey in between, nor see the beauty or meaning that could lie in the grey. My parents were science teachers. My interests had always been in science subjects, where everything is quantifiable, provable and justifiable. Even my chosen profession today is based on that philosophy. The world of art had always remained a mystery to me. Something I respected, but never dared to approach.

However, my parents funnily enough believed in giving their children an education in the arts. Growing up, I was sent to ballet lessons, music lessons, art lessons… I was only ever good at music. I studied the piano for over 10 years, from the tender age of 4. This included 6 years of violin. I always considered piano to be my first instrument though. I’m told I was rather good at it too. At the age of 12, I was offered a scholarship to a music school in London. (But my parents deemed me way to young to be alone, so far away from home.)

Music taught me about art. It taught me how something so intangible and without form, could reach down and touch someone deep within their soul. I remember the first time I heard a live performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor. I was never the same again. It still remains my favourite piece of all time. In fact, Tchaikovsky is my absolute favourite composer. Something I find rather odd, considering how extravagantly melodic (sometimes almost syrupy sweet), sometimes unpredictable and varied his compositions can be. Considering my obsession with order and having everything in its place, the fact that the theme of my favourite concerto is in D flat major instead of its original key. It went against my personality. But that little burst of melody coming through in a major key is just sublime. I digress… It’s funny but Tchaikovsky was the only Romantic composer that I found interesting. My favourite era at that time of my life was the Classical era.

But Claude Debussy would change all that. My first brush with Debussy was when I was 7 or 8. I played a piece from his Children’s Corner Suite at a concert my piano teacher gave for her students. The only thing I recall was that the notes and sensibility of the piece went against everything I knew. There was no main melody. Everything was a mishmash of notes, some sounding rather jarring to the ear. Weird…

A year later, I discovered his first book of Préludes. La fille aux cheveux de lin and La cathédrale engloutie were among my favourites. Thanks to Twilight, he seems to be only known for Clair de Lune these days. The existence of a palette with different shades of colours and tonality blew my mind away. I felt a freedom to express myself through music that I never experienced with works from the other eras. C’était un coup de foudre. Et je suis tombée amoureuse. It was a completely new concept to my life as I knew it then.

Les Nymphéas by Claude Monet at Musée de l'Orangerie

Le Matin aux Saules – Les Nymphéas by Claude Monet at Musée de l’Orangerie.

On our trip last year, my love for L’Impressionisme grew to include the works by Claude Monet. We visited Musée de l’Orangerie which houses a few of his paintings of Les Nymphéas in two rooms painted completely white. The guide states that it was designed by Monet to create a ‘decompression space’ between the city’s agitation and his work. Monet donated the pieces to France and wanted to give Parisians a peaceful haven. He wrote in 1909, ‘Nerves overwrought by work would relax there just like the relaxing example of those stagnant waters, and, for whomever inhabited it, this room would offer asylum for peaceful meditation amidst a flowery aquarium.’

When we visited the museum last year, photography without flash was still allowed so we were lucky we managed to get 2 decent shots. The museum’s website states that photography is now prohibited. It is impossible to describe the feeling one gets while sitting in a completely white room, staring at the beautiful paintings that are a few feet away from you. I do not deem myself to be an art critic of any sort, but that experience moved me. (That is my personal measure for how good an artist is – if he moves me). Hubby and I spent close to an hour sitting in that white space, before moving on to La Collection Jean Walter et Paul Guillaume (which hubby loved).

This year, we’re looking forward to our visit to Musée d’Orsay, with its renowned collection of Impressionist art, and I’m really looking forward to discovering the works of Van Gogh, as we will be tracing some of his footsteps in Provence. I’ll admit I first came to know about Van Gogh through the song “Starry Night’, and I’ve never seen a real painting by him. But what I’ve seen and read so far, I’m liking. I’m looking forward to seeing his Le Nuit Etoilée (which depicts the Rhone river in Arles, as we are heading to Arles as part of the same trip) in the flesh.