On a busy Saturday in New York City, there’s something very calming about stepping into the Monet’s Garden Experience at 27 Wall Street. Luscious-painted landscapes of rivers, canals, waterlilies, hanging wisteria blooms, and skies are just the thing for winter-weary New Yorkers looking for a bit of spring. Known as the father of the “impressionistic” painting style, Claude Monet focused on the way light reflects off of everything his eyes could see: sky, water, flowers, buildings, haystacks, and the like, taking the canvas out into the world to paint, popularizing the “plein air” technique, capturing the landscape just as he saw it. He was known to return to a scene to paint it again during another time of day, or in another season; in his series of paintings of French cathedrals, he camped out in a room that overlooked the cathedral so he could view the scene at different times of the day, to study the changes in light and shadows.
On this February day, it was evident that this exhibit was popular with all ages, and with a multi-national audience. There are two floors to explore, with the main offering a timeline of Monet’s life, loves, and examples of his successes and failures in the art world. In the late 1800’s, hobnobbing with the likes of Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissaro, and Edgar Degas, Monet experimented with a new “unrestricted” way of painting. When these paintings were first displayed, they were seen by art critics as “amateurish” and “unfinished,” considered a “impression” of a scene. Rather than discouraged at the reviews, Monet and his friends embraced the name and continued to refer to themselves as “impressionists.”
Whether or not one is inclined to delve deeply into Money’s private life or his movements throughout Europe to find more landscapes, the paintings themselves are the stars of this exhibition. We can still see his life unfold as we move from painting to painting, and see the impressionistic style take dominance in his work. In one of his most striking examples, Monet paints his first wife, Camille, on her deathbed, surrounded by a bleak landscape of blankets and head coverings, with a deathly cloud hovering behind the pillows that propped her up. There’s very little color, just what peeks out in the folds of the blankets. It makes one wonder what it must’ve been like for the artist to witness and paint this most intimate scene.
Still on the main floor, we walk through a corridor that offers side rooms that provide a timeline of Money’s pivotal years as a rising master and interpreter of nature, light and color. In another room, guests color their own lily pad which, when scanned into the computer, becomes part of the exhibit. There’s a recreation of Monet’s Japanese bridges, a feature found in twelve of his paintings, decorated with a cottage garden array of blooms. We can visit rooms that focus on Monet’s style of painting with “patches of color” technique, and a few activities for those tech-savvy with their cellphone to click on QR codes and play around with the Monet’s images, with museum guides on hand to assist.
The second floor brings guests into the 360-degree immersive experience as Monet’s life and art highlights are narrated along with a floor to ceiling “multimedia and multi-sensory technology” video. So even if distracted by the lush paintings and activities on the first floor, we can still get an understanding and appreciation of the man behind the art in a 45-minute overview.
It’s understandable that such an experience deserves some appropriate nourishment. On our way to the new Dim Sum Palace on Division Street in Chinatown – about a 20-minute walk – we had to stop into the South Street Seaport’s Funny Face Bakery for what I think is the biggest chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever seen, and to browse their own art talents in a painted Taylor Swift cookie! Then, at the brightly lit dim sum restaurant, we choose a selection of dumplings, scallion pancakes, shrimp rolls, and Shanghai rice in another masterful experience – a culinary one, this time — to cap off another fabulous day in New York City.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff