CLAUDE MONET, THE GREAT FRENCH IMPRESSIONIST painter (1840-1926), once wrote in 1908* to Gustave Geffroy, the art critic and journalist, that he had become completely obsessed with the landscapes of water and reflections in his garden at Giverny 75 kms outside Paris, admitting that it was beyond his powers at his age to capture their essential essence. The year before, he had destroyed at least thirty canvases of Water Lilies deeming them to be entirely mediocre and not suitable for public exhibition, much to the obvious financial chagrin of Paul Durand-Ruel, his dealer.
His famous house is in Normandy, and I must have driven past many times but I have never visited the gardens. Don’t ask me why; I was probably racing to catch a ferry and load the car on board. The house is a public monument today and a major tourist attraction, and remains exquisitely beautiful.
I want to put to you: what do you think this obsession was? What was he looking for?
Consider that he was 68 when he wrote the letter to Geffroy and this driven search to capture the unattainable; to land the wave of core elemental beauty onto his artist’s canvas was a relentless psychological piston until the day he died in 1926, aged 86.
He was a highly acclaimed Impressionist painter and had known great professional success, so he was not seeking perfection to be pedantic, although all successful artists in all genres have to be obsessive in order to deliver their vision, there are artists and obsessive artists, if you follow me. Incidentally, Cezanne, a known obsessive, had the same manic desire to entrap the sublime nature of a particular mountain, Mont Sainte-Victoire in Provence near where he was born.
For eighteen years, Monet worked and re-worked the water-lilies in his garden lake. His eye-sight was fading and he was given a new optical eye-lens much like a magnifying glass to attach to a head-band which enabled him to see better, but which may have affected what he actually saw… that is a point of contentious debate between art historians.
What interests me is the obsessive search for the ineffable. The sublime truth of what Monet instinctively could ‘see’ but couldn’t managed to present in visual form on canvas, year after year. He was ageing, so death would have been on his mind. He would have started to let go.
Any why indeed – the public rapturously love the Water Lilies. What are we subconsciously acknowledging? Think about this.
Furthermore, his work became increasingly blurred – form ceased to be recognisable – the lilies merged into the water, and all seemed to be one great wash of colour. Blindness or God?
When we look at these magnificent masterpieces, the artist gives us what he is experiencing. And a painting becomes a masterpiece when he succeeds and we understand that the painting is reflecting our untainted consciousness. THAT is why we gasp sometimes at indescribable beauty. We recognise it in ourselves and as ourselves, and please note: we are dumb-struck and our minds fall quiet…. EXACTLY what it’s supposed to do – to show us the emptiness of our being. THAT is awakening to the true Self.
That is what it is.
Please don’t forget Nisargadatta Maharaja beautifully said the rose becomes the nose in order to know itself.
Now you know what spiritual awakening is. It’s right here…
Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.
Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.
Free copies of her books are available for download here: https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.
- Letter from Giverny, dated 11 August 1908
Image: Working canvas © Selima Gurtler 2019