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There were many paintings I saw at the Musee de L’Orangerie, but I honestly can only remember the eight Monets.

It’s hard to explain or show why this exhibit at L’Orangerie is so moving.  It is in two rooms that were designed by Claude Monet himself.  The rooms are classic in architecture, oval-shaped and white.  In the middle there are large viewing benches that run almost the length of the room.  Monet insisted that the light for viewing be natural; maybe that is why the two rooms are so peaceful.  One room houses four huge curved panels of water lilies at various stages of the light during the day.  The colors, the details and the scope are breathtaking, and it’s difficult to see how Monet could have even physically done the work, let alone conceived its execution in separate panels.  The light and colors are so different in each of the four paintings, yet it also feels unified. We linger in this room for about half an hour, alternately walking the length of the panels, admiring them closely and then sitting on the bench, taking in the whole piece.  It is spectacular, and we don’t want to leave.  How could anything top this?  But there comes a point where lingering proceeds to rudeness and others needed to view it, so finally we make our way to the next room. Reluctantly, very reluctantly.

But, unbeknownst to us, the next room is a companion concept. You walk through this quiet arch, and all I can say, is this is what I imagine heaven might be like. It is even more light-filled, dazzling and intense.  So much so that I immediately make my way to the bench to sit down.  I am almost staggering, like a crazy drunken woman.  I can’t take it in; I feel like I can’t breathe.  Then I just spontaneously start crying and keep crying for about 5 minutes.  No embarrassing sobbing noises, just tears of joy streaming down my eyes.  I realize that I am that affected clichéd woman who cries at beautiful paintings.  I do not care if I am.

This series is of willow trees at different times of the day, when the light changes, and the light is just dazzling.  Yes, normally I wouldn’t use the same adjective twice in two paragraphs, but “dazzling” is the only word that does it justice. The scope also makes it overwhelming, as does the depth of the paintings. Layers upon layers, and yet somehow still light and bright.  I wished I had a pillow and that they’d allow me to camp out there overnight so that I could fully comprehend that willow tree room.  I doubt that that would have been enough time, even.  Besides, I probably couldn’t bring enough tissues for what would inevitably be more crying.

Monet died after finishing these two series, which he worked on for 12 years.  Unfortunately, the museum would not let me take my own photos, but I’m not sure they would do the work justice anyway.  There’s no way to communicate the scope or the curved panels, nor the energy yet somehow simultaneously peacefulness of the room.  You just have to see them.  Fortunately, they are now permanently engraved in my mind … and my heart.

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