Overheard at the Colours of Impressionism
Once again, I managed to catch the Colours of Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery on its last day of showing. I had to seize the opportunity to see a Monet in Singapore. The exhibition featured masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, with works from Monet, Renoir, Manet and Cezanne.
The exhibition was beautiful. The walls were in violet, peach and ash. The frames were intricate and elegant. The paintings were dazzling with tender portraits and charming landscapes. It was a different world; a world of another time with ladies in hats and quaint houses, a world of another aura with calming clouds and joyous flowers.
Meandering through this beauty, I overheard a young couple’s conversation. “The Impressionists were so lucky, they lived in a time where everything is so pretty. We can’t find such scenes to paint in Singapore.” “Exactly! How to paint people in boring modern clothes and ugly high rise buildings?”
The Impressionists drew inspiration from what was around them and painted the “feeling” of what they saw. The painted the nature surrounding them, the gentlemen they met, the homes they lived in.
Perhaps the Impressionists were indeed fortunate. They lived in a time where nature was more present with lesser development. The buildings were lower and so the sky was bigger, the roads were fewer and so the fields of flowers were larger.
But the lives of the people they painted were modern at that time. The observers of their paintings then could have made the same disdain comment, of the “boring modern clothes and ugly high rise buildings” that were painted, when compared to an earlier time.
I guess most of us have a soft spot for nostalgia. We tend to feel that the past is a little sweeter and a littler lovelier, maybe because we have been bulldozed into the rapid changes around us. We bring this tint of nostalgia to the paintings of the Impressionists, overwhelmed by these paintings that are more than a century old. However, we cannot fully relate to these paintings, of a life that is far different from ours.
There are many artists that continue to paint in the impressionist style to this day, capturing our modern life as they see now. Maybe these scenes are not as charming as those of the Impressionists; of office workers working on their laptops instead of peasants in the farms, of towering clinical structures instead of low roofed houses, of women in shorts and slippers instead of elegant dresses, of trees lined roads instead of wooded forests. But these are part of our current everyday life, which the artists are working hard to record and reflect what they see and feel onto the canvas.
These “modern” paintings would no doubt be regarded as enchanting a century later, but why should we wait for the people in the future to appreciate them? We should enjoy these paintings now, immersing ourselves into familiar scenes interpreted uniquely by the artists. We should appreciate these paintings now, indulging ourselves with their easy accessibility and affordability.