Sushil and I went to see Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery yesterday. I can't pretend to know the first thing about art, but as Lottie once told me at the Tate, she doesn't always get it, but there's something about the way it makes her feel. And there is something about being in a grand space, seeing pieces that you know (if not understand) to be great works of art, that stirs inside. I love watching people and overhearing snippets of commentary, seeing how they take it in; some are very, very serious, but I think most are like me, just there to add a little bit of special into their day.
I ended up being quite taken with one particular painting, Footbridge at Zaandam. Tucked away in a corner of the second room, smaller and much less vibrant than most of the works on display, I paused in front of it for a polite amount of time before starting to turn to the next one, when my eyes were drawn back. At the centre, barely discernable against the rest of the painting, stood a lady I hadn't noticed. Just a few bits of colour almost hidden against the black door, arms cautiously drawn in close to her body, perhaps a bit frightened. I started wondering about the woman in the painting, who she might have been, what she was thinking, why she looked hesitant. Was Monet a stranger to her? Was she worried someone might see her with him? How did the inside of her house look? What was her life like?
Throughout the rest of the exhibit, my mind kept wandering back to her, and it occurred to me that with just a few brushstrokes, a life that probably made no other mark in the world had been captured in that painting. Dear to the people close to her no doubt, any memory of her would have disappeared within a generation or two. But here I was, almost 150 years later, thinking about her and what the world was for her. A couple of blotches of paint recorded a life and connected me to someone I never knew and who, if real, died long ago. I thought that was extraordinary. And there was certainly something about the way it made me feel.
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