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Speaking with Art

pialikesowls's picture

Stepping into the Barnes Foundation was nothing short of majestic. I had been looking forward to going to the Barnes for several months; even Cordelia knew how excited I was. Some people say that when you build up something you haven’t experienced in your head, all that happens is that you get disappointed. Fortunately, while I did build the museum up in my head onto a lofty pedestal, “disappointed” was definitely a word I would never use to describe my time at the Barnes Foundation.

I chose Le linge, or The Laundry, painted by Édouard Manet in 1875 to study in isolation. The painting is of a woman and a child doing the laundry in a garden. Impressionism is one of my favorite periods of art – to be honest, it’s probably everyone’s favorite period of art. There’s something about the soft, quick brushstrokes of this art period that makes me feel at ease. The painting of a woman and (possibly) her child creates a personal atmosphere, rendering it a domestic scene typical of many paintings during this time.

What immediately drew me to this painting was the object that the woman was wringing. The water underneath it seems so realistic; I was extremely impressed because it is so difficult to portray water in painting. I mean, maybe it’s easy for a trained artist, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know where to begin with drawing water. This painting also made me think of Claude Debussy, a composer contemporary to the Impressionist painters. Many of these composers were heavily influenced by the paintings, and vice versa. The combination of Impressionist music and paintings is such an ethereal experience; the soft brushstrokes and chords combine fluidly, and the influence is clear.

The intimate scene reminded me of how I miss spending time alone with my mother – not including Skype or FaceTime. A lot of Impressionist paintings are heavily based on emotion, and the way one looks at a painting depends so much on how one feels. In Le Linge, you can see the intimate interaction between the woman and the child. Though the child, I had noticed, looks slightly stoic and emotionless, the woman has softness in her eyes as she looks towards the little girl. I noticed that all of the flowers and green nature around the subjects framed the scene, giving it a natural and casual kind of atmosphere.

Another large component of Impressionism, evident in this painting, would be the lighting. Claude Monet, another Impressionist painter, painted a series of the Rouen Cathedral (a cathedral in northwestern France) in the 1890s during different times of the day, which demonstrated how the light affects the appearance of the cathedral in different lighting conditions. Manet didn’t make lighting the full focus, but it still made the scene seem intimate and lighthearted.

When Impressionism was first introduced into the art world, many were critical of it. This is the brushstrokes were so separated, short, and thick that up close, the picture looks like it doesn’t make sense. However, once you stand back and look at it from afar, you can see that the brushstrokes combine and create a fluid image. For example, in Le Linge, I got as close as I could (without causing suspicion) to the laundry hanging on the line, and the random lines of yellow and dark blue didn’t really make sense to me until I backed up a lot. That’s when I noticed that the yellow and dark blue made the material look so much more realistic and textured. Without it, it would have just looked flat. This made me realize that while an object may look white, it will probably never be pure white. The different colors are painted to add dimension to the whole painting. While it may seem as if the colors don’t make sense when you look at it up close, light changes a scene so much and adds colors that you don’t even know are there. Going back to Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, he sometimes painted the cathedral red, sometimes purple, sometimes white, and almost every color in between.

As an aspiring art history major, this trip to Philly was one that I had been really looking forward to for a while. Art is such an important part of my life and I love that people take in a piece of art based upon their life experiences; it shows how versatile art is. Art often speaks to a person, and it says a different thing each time.