Opinion | Opinie 24/01/2010

The relaxing effect of impressionist paintings

After the hyper-realism, in some sense, of my leaving-do on Friday, and the intensity of the photography protest, I felt like being away from it all and relaxing, letting everything go.

Being on Trafalgar Square, visiting the National Gallery seemed the most obvious thing to do; inside I was somehow drawn to the most modern part of the collection. Memories of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich went through my head, the smoothing colours of its impressionist pieces.

On my way through the museum, my attention was first drawn by the installment “de Hoerengracht” (Whores’ Canal, a pun on “Herengracht” – Gents’ Canal – the name of a famous Amsterdam canal). With Dutch paintings (Jan Steen, for instance) to provide background it felt like a little piece of Holland, including old bicycles and the famous “Amsterdammertjes“; even a 1970s Story was included. A very powerful piece of art in all that draws attention to the situation of prostitutes in the Red Light district, without judging them or being sentimental about them. Good stuff, art as art should be – making you think.

Then I made my way to the late-1900 paintings and let myself be drawn into the vague shapes, outlines, colours of the Impressionists, pointillists and whatnot. It felt like a different world, in strong contrast to the highly detailed and focused feelings I’d experienced the hours before, the day before, the weekend before, and indeed, the entire weeks before.

In the end I found my two favourite paintings to be by Claude-Oscar Monet.

Water-Lilies, Setting Sun only shows the (distorted, coloured) reflection of the real world, and the water-lilies remind us of that.

In a similar way, The Japanese Bridge (much much brighter green, and therefore packing much more impact in reality) with its extremely vague outline of the bridge against the green garden gave the impression of deliberately fading reality into a non-descript generic blur, softening its harshness.

Together this related to me; I felt that helped by these paintings, at least for an hour whilst being there, alone, I could look back at what happened to me, and distance myself from it. It’s not that I’ve been unhappy – on the contrary, I’ve had a lot of very strong very positive emotions, albeit mixed with some equally strong negative ones. Getting some distance between my and these emotions helped me realise that first, these positive emotions will not last forever, and I should be prepared for them fading; and second I also need not (should not) be so disturbed by the negative ones as they too will one day be gone.


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