The lunchtime conclusion of a conference meant a couple of hours free and the opportunity to visit the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.
Standing in front of two Monet canvases in the Impressionist room, paintings of landscapes around his home in Giverny, there was a moment to wonder what it was that impelled some people to produce great works of beauty while others seemed to spread only darkness?
Monet’s sells for unimaginable figures, a single one of the dozens of paintings of water lilies he executed will sell for tens of millions. His capacity for beauty seemed immense.
Perhaps it was about one’s background, what if Monet’s background had been different? What if he had not spent decades in beautiful countryside, surrounded by creative friends? Isn’t it easier to exude light and colour and beauty when surrounded by people who create those things? The list of visitors to Giverny readslike a Who’s Who? of the art world of the time.
Had Monet been born into a different environment, had he met different people, had he pursued a different career, would we now know anything of the beauty he created? Are the choices available more complex than we might imagine: is it more than just a case of accidental external nurture versus chosen internal nature? Do we not make choices of the nurture to which we subject ourselves? Monet surrounds himself with people of light and colour, nurture that is more than just a matter of accident.
In the little churchyard at Giverny, Monet is buried in the family grave. A simple stone attached to the surround of the plot commemorates a man who, even in his own time, was one of the greatest artists in history. “Regrette de tous” would express the true thoughts of the community, they had been graced by his presence. But what about those whose lives may have been differently experienced? What about those who may have lived lives that hadn’t the beauty of an Impressionist landscape? What about those whose lives have been marked by bitterness and resentment, emotions that may have bee created by themselves? Do they end their lives very differently from Monet? Do they end their lives as unloved, as unregretted by all? Do we recognize that even in the worst of people there is the capacity to aspire to the beauty and colour of a Monet, or do we believe that we make our own choices and that we must accept the results of those choices?