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Current time:0:00Total duration:3:54

Video transcript

we're at the Musee d'Orsay and we're looking at four of over 30 canvases that Monet made of Rouen Cathedral which is a little more than an hour's drive north of Paris over two late winters and early springs 1892 and 1893 he rented a space across from the Cathedral and painted the Cathedral in different effects of light and so what he did was he had several canvases going at once each for a different moment of the day and a different effect of light well that makes sense if Monet is trying to define this ephemeral quality of light then as the Sun moves he would need to change canvases he had paint that fast yeah and then he would come back to it day after day and also different weather effects and having this temporary studio across the street allowed him to paint in the rain early in the morning etc there's a lot of paint on these canvases and so this is not something that was done quickly Monet was always interested in capturing the fleeting effects of something that he saw but here it's become the exact subject of the painting the irony is that as he's capturing something that's leading he takes longer and longer to paint it and to finish it not outside but to finish it in the studio there's another irony here which is that if their subject is really about light and the way light constructs form and I think that really is the subject he's picked a pretty potent thing to render that on that is to say a medieval cathedral which is all of its religious connotations its historical connotations and is solid in the extreme and yet in the rendering by Monet these are not such solid forms no they really appear very light almost filigree forms they lack a sense of heavy three dimensionality the subject of a Gothic cathedral is divine light itself so why would he be interested in a just formal sense oh my god the Cathedral and I've always thought that it had to do with the enormous complexity of the surface there's no doubt that it's the complexity of light and shadow on the facade a cathedral like we're on Cathedral that was appealing to him but I don't think it's simply because the Gothic church has a fabulous facade I mean he's choosing something very identified with France the Gothic style there feels to me like there's something nationalistic here there feels to me like there's something poignant here oh this is innocence taking that grand history taking all of the power that these functions symbolically and in since understanding them through the lens of the late 19th century they're meant to be seen together and he exhibited them together they're very beautiful and one really does get the sense of optical effects of different times of day the morning mist the Sun coming out the heat of the afternoon what happens in to my eyes as I move across the canvases is different parts of the cathedral protrude and recedes in different ways in different light and in a sense this physical stone itself becomes really this mutable experience in that the building is shaped and reshaped by the way that light hits it and that the very architecture is transformed and in a sense it is the triumph of the optical over the physical which is something very different than the gothic architects would have thought about the church because what could be seen was really a symbol for what couldn't be seen and in a way what Monet seems to be telling us here in the end of the 19th century is what we see is what there is that there is truth to our experiential you