Since my last visit to L’Orangerie they did a major change: moved Monet’s two oval Water Lilly rooms from the basement to the top floor, with a big architectural restructuring. The new space has filtered natural light from the ceiling, and seems cleaner in design, and more spacious (though I imagine that is just a trick of the light.) The other collection, which I find rather weak, is now banished to the basement.
I have spent some hours in these two rooms, some time ago with a DV camera, before they installed little barricades, dancing a few inches from the surface, shooting the wonderful painterly delirium which was Monet’s world. Once I watched an older American woman brush her hand against the surface – which is quite textured and rather invites a tactile approach, though the woman was promptly reproached by the guard. I find myself wondering about most of those who come to this, as in a pilgrimage, an obligatory tourist matter, as they sit on the benches and gaze. Few come actually close to the surface of the work, but sit back at a distance, where the abstraction of painterly coloring forms a diffuse impressionist image of water, lillies, tree trunks, reflections. Only a few move close, where the scale of the work takes over and immerses one in a sea of painterly effect – strokes of the brush, the gentle build-up of color, the textures, taking in one’s whole sense of vision. Monet was clearly here a precursor of the abstract expressionists, of color field artists like Rothko or Morris Louis, demanding that you immerse yourself into the totality of the painting, which in a push-pull manner reveals itself as precisely painting, and as a sublime spiritual experience of pure color and in a Heideggerian sense, “being”. One goes into this kind of painting and experiences the hard reality, literal paint, and in doing so it makes a quantum leap to something else. My guess is those that sit on the bench and see a pond with water lillies do not get this.
Just what each of us sees, I am not at all sure. What I am sure of is that Monet made a work of art that will last as long as we humans care about such things.