Familiar paintings made new
It’s well known that familiar music has the power to transport us back in time, into memories, fantasies, experiences from the near or distant past. It’s also true that familiar music may seem new again, depending on the interpretation, the performers, the orchestration. Maybe the same thing is true of familiar art. All of us may feel that some of Monet’s paintings are like old friends. We’ve seen them often in reproduction, and perhaps once or twice we’ve seen the actual works in museums. Have they, then, lost the power to surprise us, to have a refreshed and startling effect on our senses?
A new exhibition at MoMA , New York’s Museum of Modern Art, does help us see Monet’s revered Water Lilies with fresh eyes. Shown in conjunction with some small paintings which are closeups of flowers and the famous bright Japanese bridge, the huge triptych of watery blues, greens and mauves lets our eyes hover and zoom over its surfaces like a dragonfly. We can see anew how Monet, even in these late paintings, remained engrossed in the challenge of looking and painting, painting and looking. For the viewer, the pleasure in the looking is both familiar and new.