On Valentine’s weekend, Michael and I celebrated with a visit to the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, TX. We love this museum and always have a positive experience when we go there.
(I have told Michael laughingly that I would go there even if only to go to the ladies bathroom. Seriously. It is fabulous.)
We spent the afternoon touring a collection of paintings by Gustave Caillebotte*, an Impressionist. Many of the paintings were based on Paris scenes from that period, with a noticeable number depicting a person looking out a window onto the unseen street below. Looking at these paintings, what you see is the person – often just the back or quarter profile of the person – not what they are seeing. They are about the viewer (including you) and the act of viewing, not about the view.
The collective impact of this repeated point-of-view experience was striking. It was the weekend, so the museum was crowded with live viewers of these painted viewers, all of us doing the museum shuffle, dancing politely around one another either to see or to see from a different angle. We formed a new layer on these window compositions, even further displaced from the ultimate object of view. This was intentional on the painter’s part, yet one painting we saw was quite different.
The Yerres, Effect of Rain, stood out to me for two reasons. The first was that deep ringing sensation in my chest that tells me that this one has reached outward and found a lasting place in me. The second was a comment by a woman I had been dancing spaces with over the course of the collection. She stood next to me, looked at the same painting that I was, then said a single word:
I nodded and smiled, not because that was my own experience of the piece but in recognition that my own experience of it was 180 degrees the opposite: what she felt was the lack of all those people in the streets and the windows and around the gaming tables, and what I felt was the relief that I no longer had to peer around them so I could finally see directly.
One picture. Two people.
Two definingly different experiences of it.
In knowing that, I knew just a bit about a complete stranger.
You can never be sure that what you are seeing is the same thing as the person standing right beside you. Caillebotte painted that many times.