Saturday, December 26, 2009

Claude Monet ~ Waterlilies

Much has been written of Claude Monet's failing eyesight and how it would have affected paintings such as the Portland Art Museum's Waterlilies painted during the period 1914-1915. As early as 1905 Monet no longer saw colors with the same intensity as he had done before. Time marched on and his perception of color continued to deteriorate. In 1912 he was diagnosed with nuclear cataracts in both eyes by a Parisian ophthalmologist. Although he finally consented to an operation on his right eye in 1923 he spent many years seeking other solutions all the while refusing surgery. He was aware of the poor results on others including Mary Cassatt. Lisel Mueller presents another view of Monet's perception of color and image.

Monet Refuses the Operation


Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

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