A few weeks ago, I started getting down on myself because I had at that point only visited one museum, Centre Georges Pompidou. Every Tuesday, I have a three and a half hour break between classes, from 10:30am until 2pm; so, one Tuesday morning, after walking out of my French & Expatriate Literature class, I decided on a whim that it would be the day I finally made it to the Musée d’Orsay. I had been dying to visit in order to see the vast Impressionist collection.
After waiting at least twenty or thirty minutes for the bus at St. Michel, eating away at my break time, I was finally en route to the museum. Once there, I began to feel anxious because I had only a little over two hours to peruse the works if I wanted to make it back to school in time for French. So, I made straight for the fifth floor, which houses the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, and Édouard Manet, just to name a few. Any anxiety I had melted away as I was stopped in my tracks first by the beautiful big clock that looks out onto the Paris streets, and then by the scenic paintings.
Although it would be difficult to choose a favorite painting among them, the works of Monet seem to speak to me the most. Some of his paintings, like Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, Harmonie Verte, I had seen before; nonetheless, the soft blues, greens, and purples in the water lilies and the idyllic, quaint bridge struck me just as hard. Monet’s works, more so than any other paintings I have thus far encountered, have the power to transport me out of reality, as I involuntarily and automatically imagine myself standing in his beautiful landscapes.
One such work of his is Coquelicots, which translates in English to Poppies; this one I had not seen before. It depicts in the foreground a woman, accompanied by a child, walking through a poppy field in the French countryside. In the background, what looks to be another woman and child follow behind. In the far distance, one can see the glimpse of a country home, perhaps a chateau where the women and children live. What first drew my eye to the painting was the vivid orange-red color of the poppies, which provides a pleasing contrast set against the green grass and blue sky. While at first I felt transported into the painting’s countryside, and imagined myself rolling down the grassy hill, only a moment later I was transported yet again—this time to the Mojave Desert.
In the Mojave there is a beautiful poppy reserve located in Antelope Valley. Although I grew up in Los Angeles not too far from the reserve and have always wanted to visit, for some reason I never have been able to make it there. For this reason, Coquelicots momentarily made me feel nostalgic for home, as well as slightly irritated at myself for having yet to visit the poppy reserve. Shortly thereafter though, I began to feel amused as I wondered what the people standing around me associated the painting with—surely not the Mojave Desert? Was I the only observer to ever make this seemingly grand leap from the French countryside to Antelope Valley? Probably not, but who’s to say for sure? I eventually walked away with a sense of awe, as I realized just how vastly differently people might interact with and react to works of art.
The next painting to catch my eye was set not in the countryside, but in Paris—recognizable to me immediately, even before reading the title, La rue Montorgueil, fête du 30 juin 1878. The tall apartment buildings and ambling street (not to mention the numerous French flags) made the painting feel so quintessentially Parisian. Although I’ve only been living here for a couple of months now, looking at the painting felt like looking at a representation of home.