Wednesday, March 1, 2017

MONET's SELF-PORTRAIT hidden in his WATERLILIES

MONET'S SELF-PORTRAIT hidden in his WATERLILIES

Monet's two oval-shaped rooms filled with his Nympheas (Waterlilies) paintings (1918-27) in the
Orangerie in Paris at first glance appear to have no human figures except the visitors looking
at the panels.

The second room has three paintings that show the dark shadows of willow trees on the water line:
Some might wish to read those dark, thick trunks as human imprints on the waterscapes, but, in truth,
the surfaces on these canvases are filled with the colors of light, clouds, waterplants, and flowers.





But in the FIRST ROOM of the WATER LILIES as you enter from the lobby,


approximately at the spot on the left wall marked by the arrow above, you will find a face hidden in the cloud reflections of the pond:
just to the left of the man standing in the photo below and to the left of the large dark mass of foreboding water depth:
It is the facial signature of the artist, who is
following in the tradition of self-portraiture for painters, established by Masaccio, over on the right. (See my blog entry on Masaccio and the tradition of self-portraiture for painters.)
If you compare photographs of Monet near the end of his life and the closeup of this section of the
cloudscape in the Waterlilies, there is a wonderful similarity of form:
 
The artist paints himself into the painting with his long scraggly white beard, with darker greys near the mouth for the darker parts of the mustache and beard that have not yet turned white. The right eye appears larger as the left eye does in the photo. It is as if Monet were looking in a mirror to replicate himself. The lids above the eyes are darkened, too, and there is a suggestion in the painted version of the furrowed lines between the eyebrows. 
          Here is the artist himself, staring lucidly out into the light, out into eternity, presenting himself as the author of the works in the two rooms, inserting himself into the cacophony of paint he has used to create cloud reflections on the surface of the pond water. In the whole vision of the pond his eyebrows and lids become waterlily pads, and his beard is a mass of colored mixtures with white, pink, and gray strokes. He wishes his face to remain hidden in a totality that is not meant to be about him or about any human beings. As we have said in another blog entry, he wanted to paint infinity in two rooms specifically designed to imitate the scientific symbol of infinity. He places himself in the swirl of that infinity forever. He consciously inserts his own right to authorship in a painting collection meant to evoke a garden of beauty without human figures. Even his ear is a small projection on the right in the blackness that covers the canvas on the right in this first wall painting in the series.
Perhaps the dark mass to the right of this self-portrait is meant to pull his face forward out of the depths while at the same time evoking the dark unknown of death. (Monet dies in 1926 just a few months before the rooms are completely finished in 1927.)
                                    
He suspends himself, as he does his water lilies, between the sky and the water, in a cloud-like formation that keeps him aloft in space, even as he displays his skill at painting the beauty he sees on the earth.


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