Continuing my course on Modern Art on Coursera, these are the new paintings that I have learnt about.
The paintings are Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure) by Giorgio di Chirico, Waterlilies by Monet, The Empire of Light II by René Magritte, Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian and Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.
Gare Montparnasse was exciting for a number of reasons, I know that “gare” means “railway station” in French, have been to Gare Montparnasse in Paris and I noticed the two lone figures casting long shadows only after reading the parentheses – and it awakened the bittersweet memories of various goodbyes and à bientôts. Also, are those bananas?
Waterlilies is a work that I fell in love with the first time that I went to MoMA. I had gone there to see Starry Night, of course, and went to explore this large room that had two massive wall to wall paintings and benches in the middle of the room. Beautiful blues and greens and splashes of red. The strangest phenomenon was that I was absolutely certain that it was a pond of flowers but when I leaned in to take a closer look, I saw nothing at all. Just splotches of paint. It boggled the mind! It took a little looking around and reading to learn that this was a curious characteristic of a Monet and was long long before I realized that all this art that I seemed to like (or find “cool”) was called Impressionism because the artists were so moved and inspired by nature saw around them that they painted out in the open, braving the elements, fading sunlight and changing seasons. And when you look at Waterlilies you really can see the changing seasons and the times of day in the different parts of the painting.
The Empire of Light, II is so eerily accurate that I thought it was a photograph! But no, it’s oil on canvas and it’s so beautiful with blue skies, fluffy white clouds, silhouettes of trees and the best part – the perfectly replicated glow of that streetlamp. Love at first sight.
Broadway Boogie Woogie is one of those paintings that would have made me scoff at Modern Art once upon a time. “What the heck is this supposed to be?!” I would have said. Pardon me, art critics, I could be a philistine. Anyway, back to the story. Turns out Piet Mondrian is pretty famous, at some point painted recognizable objects like trees and such that I understood and was highly influential to geometric abstract art. He fled from Nazi overrun Paris to New York in 1940.New York in the Forties, much like today, was of course the land of skyscrapers, bright lights, swarms of people and jazz. Is the idea of Broadway Boogie Woogie slowly making sense? It did to me too. Look at the painting again. Can’t you see the bright neon lights, cars, buildings, the complexity in the simplicity of using nothing but primary colours?
Doooooo the boogie woogie… [Musical interlude]
Christina’s World is a melancholic painting of Christina Olsen. Look at every blade of grass, every strand of hair! Can you tell that Christina had lost the ability to walk? The positioning of her body perhaps, or of the longing gaze up to the houses that you can infer from the back of her head? I don’t know what it is, it’s so beautiful and sad.
To me, a painting is good if it moves me. Whether it is instinctive, like Waterlilies, Empire and Christina or surprising like Montparnasse or as an enlightened afterthought in Broadway. They are all stories, in turns making you calm or sad or like you want to dance and I love stories.