Fixed tall behind whizzing taxis and elderly confessions over Central Park-side chess resides the palatial, now slowly browning, classic beaux-arts-inspired Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York. Trekking up its iconic staircase and peering into the endless void of a lobby donned with high-set arches invites what is, for me, a transformative journey into the past. A home, in unconventional terms, which transcends time and geography, as the eye is captured by works ranging from Italian impressionists of the 19th century to seventh century Islamic Art, stretching from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into civilisations of the third millennium B.C. of Mesoamerica.
Sandwiched between modern contemporary works and collections of art from Arab lands lies gallery 819, Monet Mid-to-Late Career. Bridge over a Pond of Lilies was produced in 1899 when French Impressionist painter Claude Monet “[….] began a series of eighteen views (depicted over twelve paintings) of the wooden footbridge over his pond [….]” throughout the summer months. The vertical framing of the canvas, unique to its counterparts in the series, gives more distinction to the water lilies, as they appear to float amid their reflections on the water languidly. Luscious summer foliage frames the background as a thin waning bridge creates layers in the middle ground and shifts the foreground slightly to the right, implying that the painting eagerly attempts to continue its coverage of the pond vertically. Reflections of the bushy hues of browns, greens, and dashes of mauve find themselves mirrored below in a blanketed stillness.
During the last forty years of his long career, Monet often illustrated the same subject several times under differing weather and lighting conditions. Several of these “series paintings,” portrayed by works on view in this gallery, are praised for their textbook naturalism. Yet, artistic technicality aside, they are truthfully among Monet’s most intensely personal works. The vast gardens he developed on his property in Giverny, France, became the central subject for his late works as they existed “for the pleasure of the eye and also for motifs to paint”.
On rainy days it provides me with an optimistic summer refuge. I can cool off in the sweltering city-trapped heat by floating through the light breeze, which choreographically shifts the delicate lilies on their trip downstream. Notorious Northeast coast blizzards are long-forgotten once the lingering snowflakes melt and bead off my woollen coat, and the French sun peers through branches of willowed greenery to brighten my view into its extensive spectrum of warmth.
Since its setting invites such serenity, I find this piece to, amusingly be, a juxtaposition to the true Manhattan hustle and bustle, which resides a mere yard out of the museum’s steps. Considering how it is commonly referred to as a “concrete jungle,” there is a beauty in the industrial influence that serves as the foundation of New York City. Growing up on the Upper East Side, I was routinely comforted by rustic brownstones and lanky gated trees on the narrow sidewalks that offered me solace from the stifling rays of sunshine. Walking for hours back and forth between blocks and avenues allowed me to memorise architectural styles and develop a fondness for the seemingly repetitive scenes that commonly engulfed me. The photo albums on my iPhone being filled with the same silhouettes of neoclassical pillars alongside art deco motifs allowed me to connect a mutual infatuation of sorts for my physical home to that of Monet’s with his garden in Giverny.
Although many eras have come and gone, similar tendencies are depicted when “home” is expressed through art. Nearly a century’s differences are able to converge through an understanding of man’s relationship to nature and the simplicity of appreciating one’s surroundings. Regardless of my nomadic tendencies, I always find myself returning to the little corner painting on the wall of gallery 819, eagerly waiting to peer over the Bridge over a Pond of Lilies and be welcomed into my sense of home.