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La Tasse de Chocolat

Taylor Milne's picture

            As I approached the chic new building that was created to hold the vast quantity of art pieces that Barnes had collected in his life, I was expecting the traditional layout of a museum, with artwork lining the walls with plaques underneath yielding descriptions of the works and their creators. However I was overwhelmed by the vast amount of artwork pieced together into a playful collage that led from room to room with hundreds of paintings, works of iron, sketches, and sculptures, all intentionally placed into a specific pattern, allowing for pieces of art to play off of one another, making each work better than it would be if it were displayed on its own. As I toured along the walls and walls of art, I kept finding myself drawn to the soft shades and strokes of the Pierre-Auguste Renoir pieces, I love the impressionist era, and Renoir pieces seemed to line the walls.

            I now knew that I wanted to spend my time with a Renoir painting, it was just deciding between one of his 181 pieces that are displayed at the Barnes Foundation. Although I found myself drawn to many of them, I kept coming back to one of the first paintings I saw in the beginning of my time viewing the collection. La Tasse de chocolat or Cup of Chocolate painted in 1914, only five years before Renoir’s death, depicts a girl sitting and stirring a cup of hot chocolate. I guess I was initially drawn to her expression, and to what she was thinking about in what looks like a moment of contemplation.

            The painting is so soft and dreamlike, with the distinct broad strokes of varying warm colors, all coming together to depict a girl who look almost sorrowful as she looks into her cup of chocolate, that she supposedly is stirring with a spoon that is delicately placed between her thumb and forefinger. Sitting alone at a small table wearing a headpiece filled with swirling bright reds, oranges, blues and greens, offsetting the softer tones that fill the rest of the painting.

            I wanted so badly to know what she was thinking about as she looks down into her cup. I kept thinking of all of the times I have sat stirring tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and remembering what I think about in those times, and the truth is that they are often thoughtless. For me time spent stirring is a break from thought, and it is almost a pause in time. I look to the expression on her face, and the way she leans her cheek into her hand, and wonder if she is as melancholy as she looks, or possibly if she is bored, or maybe none of these things. The impressionists wished to depict a moment in time, and maybe this was just a pause in time. It is highly possible she was having a splendid day in her vibrant headpiece, and this time spent delicately holding her spoon in the drink was only a deep breath before she returned to her life.

            I then noticed that her eyes might not even be open; I assumed that they were just looking deep into her cup of hot chocolate, but without any definite evidence of her eyes actually being open, I then wondered if she had fallen asleep. Thoughtless in a dreamland, not even stirring at all, just resting her hand on the table, spoon in hand, and head resting asleep into her left hand, a pose I have seen many times in classrooms, given that the spoon is often instead exchanged for a pen.

            No matter what this girl is actually doing, I connect with the simplicity of the moment in time, and the painting reminded me that we all need these moments. Whether they are of deep contemplation, of thoughtlessness, or even sleep. With such busy lives and chaos all around us, it is important to take the time to just breath and pause time.

            As I sat there admiring the details of the painting, how the brushstrokes move with the fabric of her shirt, and how the light reflects off of her wrist, knuckles, nose, and cheek, I noticed that I was creating a pause in time for myself, for deep thought that was completely my own. I looked to the light reflecting off of the gold in the small table, how the blue of her skirt can be seen in the blurred details of her china cup, just enjoying all aspects of this painting of a girl sitting with a cup of hot chocolate.

            Although this painting was simpler than most, focusing on just one individual, rather an accumulation of people interacting with one another across a great landscape, I found that this piece offered me tranquility amidst the busyness of The Barnes Foundation, with the hundreds of paintings, and groups of people filing in and out, briefly glancing at La Tasse de chocolat before moving on to another piece, feeling an obligation to see everything.

            I sat with this painting and took the time to enjoy it, wishing I had the opportunity to do this with every painting. The sad truth is that there simply is not time to sit and create a deep relationship with every painting we feel drawn to. We all need to pause time occasionally and look at a painting, or stir a cup of hot chocolate, allowing ourselves to breath within our everyday lives.