Responding to Monet’s Water Lilies

Monet_the water-lily pond

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1919. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 78 7/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

This is not my first time seeing Monet’s famous water lilies. I remember going to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris as a child—first with my father, later with my grandparents. At the Orangerie, the water lilies hang in a circular room, towering over you as you sit in the middle of the room. It almost seems as if you’re sitting in the middle of the pond.

When I saw the water lilies for the first time, my eyesight was like that of a hawk. Now, the colors come together in a blur; I can hardly discern where the green from the water lilies ends and where the green of the pond begins. The shapes and the strokes melt away. When I was a child, I could see each stroke from across the room. Like Monet, my eyesight grows worse. Like Monet, my vision blurs. If I were to paint, like Monet my paintings would become more and more abstract.

Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Five Senses: Touch

One gallery in Seeing Nature is dedicated to Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses series. Painted in 1625, this series is a close copy of five paintings by Brueghel’s father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (who painted the backgrounds) and Peter Paul Rubens (who painted the figures) in 1617–18, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Each painting focuses on one of the five senses, providing a platform for visitors to consider their own encounters with nature. Today we focus on Touch.

Brueghel_Touch

Jan Brueghel the Younger, The Five Senses: Touch, c. 1625. Oil on panel, 27 5/8 x 44 5/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

In Touch, Jan Brueghel the Younger contrasts the tender caress shared by Venus and Cupid with a bristling pile of armor and weapons of war. This painting is the only one of the five that does not have an idealized landscape: the room opens out to a hilly view with ruined walls, a reminder of the Thirty Years’ War that was ravaging the Lowlands when the artist was painting these works.

The Dancing Trees of Milton Avery’s Imagination

Avery_Dancing Trees

Milton Avery, Dancing Trees, 1960. Oil on canvas, 52 x 66 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection © 2015 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In his mid-seventies, Milton Avery brought decades of visual experience to bear on his perceptions of the world and an inclination toward simplification that may have intensified with his advancing age. At times, the artist’s late paintings veer so close to pure abstraction that only their titles enable the viewer to recognize the scene that has stirred Avery’s imagination. Such is the case here: three monumental cones swaying in the wind take flight as trees en pointe, their girth making for a comic ballet.

A few weeks ago, prompted by a free-writing exercise based around this piece, we asked visitors to Seeing Nature and social media followers what they saw in this work without providing the title. Answers included floating pizza slices, icebergs, a gnome village, stingrays, and more. What do you see?