Apparently, when Monet’s “Water Lilies” were displayed at the Orangerie in Paris, only lovers in search of a secluded place for their rendezvous flocked to the exhibition. The artist died a year before seeing the paintings installed, thereby probably saving himself the disappointment of also seeing them unappreciated. And yet he had spent a lot of time with those water lilies at his home at Giverny where they floated, glistening in the light. He used to call it opiniâtreté, stubbornness: he used to change canvas every time the sun changed.
His art wasn’t immediately understood because the retina of a person at the beginning of the 20th century was not yet steeped in moving images: so why recreate them in painting, an art that has always been considered to be about space, rather than about time? The fact is that, like all great men, Monet was ahead of his time. Looking at his water lilies today, if some kind of liquid state comes to mind, it isn’t that of his pond at Giverny at all but, rather, that of video mapping on a building, of a plasma screen, of an advert that invades our mobile phone like an oil spread. Nowadays, that instantaneousness that Monet tried to capture on canvas is no longer the result of mixing dust and sky together, it comes from other sources; it’s not clear to us yet whether we’ve succeeded in recreating the magic or, on the contrary, have simply interrupted it.
What matters, though is that he, with a simple camouflage of oil paints, anticipated a vision. Let’s remember this every time we go to see a Monet, a Caravaggio or a Van Gogh blown up on a big screen: a cosmetic trick, perhaps, that the artists wouldn’t have asked us for.