It was 2 minutes before 3pm, so we got off the bench in the lobby and walked towards the sign, “Tours Start Here”. A small group began to form around a petite lady, in her 70’s, as she continued to ask those close by, in her sweet Indian accent, if we were here for the tour. Once we were assembled, we quickly kept up as she took us through the lobby, up the elevator, and into the room of Neo-classical paintings. It was here that we began with The Elder Sister, a painting by William Bouguereau in 1869. She began to speak with the passion of someone who had just spent hours amongst some of the greatest artists of the 19th century. She explained the importance of understanding what was accepted and revered before the period of Impressionism. We closely observed the painting, each stroke of the artist’s brush was unnoticeable and the colors fairly muted. The eyes of the young subject appeared to be looking at you, whether you stood in front of the painting or on either of its sides. Although it appeared to be a simple portrait of a young girl holding a baby, it was a rather idealized view of realism, for what girl would have perfectly clean and well groomed feet while sitting in an area of dirt? It was also noted that the focus on landscape wasn’t quite yet accepted, so instead, the viewer is given only a glimpse of a landscape in the background of the image.
The next few images portrayed the transformation into the world of landscape. Realism became focused more on what was seen. Since angels and Jesus where not something seen to the naked eye, artists began to place emphasis on the grandeur of nature.
We continued as we stepped around the corner, taking long pauses between each set of steps, as we had entered the era of Impressionism. Still life and the need to capture the moment became the focal point. Traditional rules were broken as brush strokes became more visible, and the use of light, color, and composition took on new perspectives. Oddly enough, the name Impressionism was intended to be an insult as critics felt these works appeared unfinished and, therefore, only an impression.
Not only did brush strokes appear more loose, but brighter colors, unfamiliar from the muted tones, became more used. The ocean, which tended to be depicted in dark hues of blue, took on color in Monet’s painting The Windmill on the Onbekende Gracht, Amsterdam, where the colors from the buildings are reflected in the water. As seen in the photo below, realism became more about what was actually present.
We continued to view paintings from artists such as Rousseau, Monet, Manet, Morisot, Cassatt, and Van Gogh. Each painting complimented with stories of the artists. Each painting becoming more real as knowledge of its artist became more known. Claude Monet’s painting The Japanese Footbridge at Giverny revealed greater beauty knowing he had painted it while his eyesight was getting worse due to cataracts. You could almost imagine his fingers tracing the textures of the layers of paint as his painting became more abstract.
Before we knew it, our 45 minute tour ended at the one hour mark. We thanked our tour guide for the inspiration she was, received a hug of appreciation, and retraced our steps past the images that had just come to life.
I must confess that although I enjoy going to art museums and marvel at artwork from the Baroque, Renaissance, and Impressionism periods as well as relics and artifacts from European monarchies and Byzantine Empires, I have never taken the time to really understand the meaning between the changes in each period. I guess that is why I found myself in line for a tour. And it truly didn’t disappoint me. I walked away with a far greater appreciation for art and the artists behind each piece.
What type of art do you find you’re most drawn to? Do you like participating in museum tours?