When I first stood before Monet’s Meadow at Giverny, I was immediately enveloped in an atmosphere of calm. The soft pinks, hazy blues, and cheerful greens washed over me in a sea of utmost serenity. Everything about the painting was just so pleasant, from the ephemeral, passive brushstrokes, to the spacey layout of the canvas, to the color palette of a sunrise just about to break—or a sunset just falling over the horizon. Immersed in the picture, my eyes wandered across the splotchy field—across the waves of nondescript flowers and blades of grass—then up one spindly tree and down the next, then through the dense green globs of the forest backdrop, then off into the murky sky. Then I did the same in reverse. I stood entranced by the painting facing me, completely at ease, tracing back and forth and back and forth across the lines, curves, and contours.
As I moved closer in towards the piece, the markings on the canvas became visible and the previously unified picture fractured into spots of paint. The meadow dissolved into quanta of green, pink, blue, and yellow, now visible as discrete blocks of color. I could now see the physical application of paint on the painting’s surface—in some areas smooth and spread-out, others pocked and indented, others thick, pointed, and clumpy. The leaves of the trees popped out into 3D space, and the rolling meadow turned from a flowing sea into a collection of myriad little specks and streaks. The viewing experience had now changed from one of passive observation to one of tactile sensation. I could feel the physical state of the canvas via sight alone, and I could follow Monet’s brush as he built up the scene, adding layer upon layer and point after point of paint; I could see the artist himself in his art.
This type of active viewing would only have been possible in front of the physical painting itself. Even the highest resolution images of Meadow at Giverny are necessarily flat, robbed of the charm and allure of the work up close. Nor do images do the painting’s colors justice—what had previously evoked feelings of pleasantness and serenity are now merely lifeless pixels on a screen, dulled by digital reproduction. Sure, pictures of Meadow at Giverny are still pretty and enjoyable to look at, but they lack the same magic as the piece in person. This is just one example of the true value of art museums.
Unfortunately, the relatively unassuming Meadow at Giverny will always reside in the shadow of the bolder, more vibrant Monet painting Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, which hangs just around the corner from Meadow at Giverny in the Princeton University Art Museum’s European Art collection. However, once I laid eyes on Meadow at Giverny—looking past the more eye-catching works in its periphery—I was instantly enamored, and the piece has since become one of my favorite works in the Princeton University Art Museum. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to go out and explore the museum, and maybe you too will find a new favorite piece of art—maybe it’ll even be Meadow at Giverny.