Messy Squiggles, Or Impressionist Art, Or Both?

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 9. Art & Place, Prague by Vivian1 Comment

Two weeks ago, I went to Amsterdam. While I was there, I spent a significant amount of time in the Van Gogh Museum, which, to my surprise and delight, had paintings by other artists besides Van Gogh as well. The one thing that struck me while I was there, however, wasn’t necessarily seeing Van Gogh’s work, but to actually realize how interpretive and profoundly creative each work was. The style of each artist, the use of texture, color, light, and shadow to an incredibly masterful degree. The entire museum itself, a magnificent ode to the Impressionist period of art, was phenomenal.

One piece called the Rossige Kust bij Anthéor, or Red Cliffs near Anthéor, by Louis Valtat caught my eye. It wasn’t anything particularly showy or mind-blowing, yet it begged my attention in the most modest way. At the time, I didn’t think about why exactly I was so interested, but thinking about it now, I think I know why.

To begin, the painting itself is not of any particularly meaningful scene, especially to me. To put it simply, it was just a landscape of trees, the sea, a red cliff, and a woman. But what first caught my attention, was how the painting seemed to change a bit each time I looked at it. At first glance, it’s a mess of squiggles, colors, with not much shape or meaning. At second glance, you might catch that the mess of dark green and golden ochre is actually a tree and that the mix of blues and white is the sea. And when you glance again, you realize that the bit of crimson that happens to be just a slight tone away from the red of the cliffs is actually the bow tie of a woman sitting under the shade of the trees. As you look again and again at the painting, you discover a bit more. Whether its how a particular tree is casting a shadow onto a stone, or how the mess of squiggles are actually a very organized, stylized, and cohesive set of squiggles instead, or just simply how well the rich reds, greens, and blues complement each other, both in tone and shade.

And the reason why I chose this piece to describe the place I am living, Prague, is because, after thinking about it for a few days, I’ve come to realize that I feel the same way about Prague. Upon arrival, Prague didn’t seem like much. Especially compared to the grand New York City, Prague seemed… unimpressive. The city looked small, covered in graffiti. The buildings looked muted, its colors seeming to fade straight into the grey concrete of the sidewalk. But with each time I leave Prague to travel to another, and with each time I return, I seem to appreciate it a bit more. I’ve come to realize that the old, vintage atmosphere of Prague is what makes it feel so homely. The colors of the city’s buildings vary from block to block; some bright, some faded, though all of them look as if they were designed specifically to complement each other. Like Louis Valtat’s Rossige Kust bij Anthéor, Prague has taken up a slot in my heart that I had never intended for it to take.


  1. Hi Vivian!

    I love how you made the painting a metaphor for Prague; it’s a very uplifting thing. The idea that something doesn’t have to sweep you off of your feet but rather get better with time is a phenomenon I think we should all keep in mind when we (cheese-ily said) live our lives. Things don’t have to be incredible and amazing all the time, and it’s the ability to keep digging into what you have instead of constantly searching for something new that is so valuable. I love paintings that make you think twice and look even more. They’re the reasons we come back to the museums we love; they’re never boring!

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