I went into a room and saw a Monet. I wasn’t expecting that. If I had thought about it much, I imagine, I would have considered it possible – I was at the National Gallery in London, after all. But I didn’t factor it in to my visit; I just go to galleries because I like to. I read a piece in the newspaper the other day about other art forms influencing writers – that there are other forms that really make your heart soar, and that mold what you write about and how. That’s true, I think, but I couldn’t pin down what mine might be if I have one. I love art, and music, and sport, and television. But art really has a different effect on me, one that’s completely nourishing rather than also taking things away, like television does (even good television often feels like time wasted).
But there it was, in the room near the end of my tour, in the collection of rooms that make up art from the 18th Century. Not ‘make it up’ – it’s really there. I had some warning that it was coming, but to be honest the warnings were more distracting than anything else, and probably should be fired. In the rooms leading up to there were Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, and a variety of artists who deserve not to be listed in a comma separated sentence. But I didn’t expect to be seeing Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond until I saw it hanging there. I don’t know what it is about that painting, in particular, but for me it doesn’t actually exist in real life. It’s in books, and written about, but it’s not there to fall upon in a room somewhere that you can stand a foot away from it if you want. It was the only painting that gave me a few tears, although some got me close.
Is it odd that my most significant thought, outside of the awe I felt at seeing one of my favourite paintings, is that I, and everyone around me, were trusted to be next to it? Even the French? Any of us could have stepped forward at any time and slashed it with a knife. Just slashed it up. I don’t know why in particular the slashing occurred to me. I hope it’s not a subconscious… issue.
Some notes on Picasso – because he was in the same room. (So to speak. He wasn’t there with me and fifty French tourists in hologram, with a bloody bandage circumnavigating his face and that ‘I don’t do emotion in self portraits’ look.) He didn’t have the same effect, I found. The sunflowers were away, at a gallery in Holland where they are, currently, theorising about the highly regimented and articulate way in which Van Gough approached painting – whereas before, people have mostly taught and thought that he did everything in a very haphazard manner. I imagine that had something to do with the fact that he was, or at least appeared to be, slightly mental. He was in a mental asylum/recovery centre when he painted Long Grass with Butterflies, which is an entirely different painting up close – the brush strokes are leaden with thick, globby paint – the volume that would make most of us wipe clean our brush on a rag and dip it in ‘better’. Purples and black blades in the tussocks. I can see how this painting might have been more than just random, but I would love to hear how people describe his method. The painting is just the grass, with the path and the trees above it cut off deliberately, as if he has no freedom, from whatever. I think, however, his work Great Peacock Moth shows that he was a bit unstable. It has a lot of the touch of darkness in it.
I lost Andrew at the very start because I went to get a program, didn’t know he was coming with me, and he got stuck looking at the Gallery ceiling. It is pretty amazing, and he thinks it’s some sort of clock. We toured separately, and fought about whose fault that was later, as all good couples do.