The authentic matters, the real matters. It is different. Great art leaps from the surface of the paper and lives. Photographs may burn into the paper, but in that depth, they, too, live and glow.
The Met’s installation of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is worth seeing for the coalescence of so many real things in such a [relatively] small space. The monumental paintings, especially Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass in Gallery 2, En Plein Air, need to be seen for real, in the actual matter, to really be appreciated. The brushstrokes, the color, the enormity, all need to be in front of you to be appreciated—to be experienced. It doesn’t work any other way. (Click here for better views of the paintings and costumes; photography was not permitted.)
By way of an intimate contrast, consider the portrait of the gown and the gown itself in Gallery 5, The Dictates of Style. Here’s a lesson in the power of art, of paint, and an artist’s vision—and it’s Bartholomé, not Monet or some other genius, though a solid painter all the same.
Behold the cotton dress in conservator-approved lighting and yawn. Well designed, beautifully made, and real, right down to the stain on the upper bodice or collar, a pleat slightly misaligned at the hem. But yawn all the same. Now, the Bartholomé: bam! It’s not about the dress: it’s about light. This contrast is beyond a doubt one of the best lessons I have ever seen on the real nature of painting, and of impressionism: Light.
And if the authentic, the real is important, going to see the real thing is also important.
Here’s the Met’s catalog shot and record for a Degas drawing:
And my iPad photo of the same drawing:
I’m not a wild fan of Degas; I’m more a Joseph Beuys/Caravaggio kind of art lover, but seen in person, this sketch was amazing.
This is an unfair comparison, and I had expected the catalog shot to be in color, because color is so important to this piece. In black and white, you miss the pop of the color contrast between the medium and the paper; you miss the bleed of the oil spot, more subtle in the black and white. You miss the way that image is fast and messy, the simmering tension between the artist and the sitter. Incredible as it seems, there is nothing like the real thing.