First published by Beauty and Well-Being, 1 June 2020
In these times of lockdown and stillness, our destinations remain the same: the living room, the kitchen or the bathroom. Yet, Henry Miller was onto something when he said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” We are indeed seeing these familiar places differently, whether fondly or angrily. With our lesser ability to move, we are not just seeing; we are wandering. As we recapture time to ourselves, we have the space to deeply and truly look. The ever-changing view from our windows now has our full attention.
Others before us took this time. For some, such as Vermeer or Matisse, it resulted in masterpieces. So today, if you are tired of the view outside your own window, I invite you to explore a new view. These artists may still have a thing or two to teach us when it comes to looking.
1. Idealize Your View Like Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer is one of the great masters of the Dutch Golden Age. Today, there are 35 paintings attributed to him around the world, most of which are domestic interior scenes. The cityscape painting, View of Delft,was an uncommon subject at the time and it is the only one in his oeuvre. The painting realistically details the city with packed houses to the left and the Nieuwe Kerk – the church located on the market square. It is, however, hauntingly still. There is very little human interaction, but the warmth of the colors makes the city glow. The clock tells us it is just past 7 o’clock, but are the people early risers on a clear spring day or acquaintances enjoying a warm summer evening?
2. Have Colourful Thoughts Like Matisse
In 1905, Henri Matisse painted the view from his apartment in Collioure in the South of France. As the sun sets on the Mediterranean Sea, it warms the painting with glowing light and and gently lapping waves. The hint of an aperitivo in the painting gently tempts us. That fall, Matisse exhibited the painting at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. The broad touch and unrealistic colours caused both explosions of laughter and sheer outrage. One art critic famously said that “wild beasts” had been unleashed. This window view is one of the first paintings of what we now call fauvism.
3. Be Patient Like Nicéphore Niépce
With a single click of an iPhone, photography has become second nature to us. When it was first invented in the 19th century, photography required eight-hour exposure and very little motion in order to capture something viable. Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor, took the first surviving photograph with a heliograph in front of a window in his estate at Le Gras. The 1827 cliché of fading roofs has become a relic of our highly visual world.
4. Be Metaphysical Like Magritte
In 1933, the surrealist Belgian painter René Magritte painted the Human Condition. A canvas on an easel sits in front of a window. The painting within the painting replicates the view that is outside. Magritte reinforces the importance of our relation to the outside world – something we are keenly aware of at the moment. He reminds us that whatever we experience outside, we bring with us and keep it inside. We all feel this more deeply and intensely than before as our outdoor experiences are few and far between.
5. Soak In The Quiet Urban Reality Like Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte was a great patron of the Impressionists. He was a friend and collector of Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas. As a painter, he was more interested in urban reality. In this painting, Caillebotte’s brother, René, looks out of the family home’s window on Rue de Miromesnil in Paris. Boulevard Malesherbes is in the distance – a buzzing boulevard that seems in this painting as empty as it is today during lockdown.