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Matthew Hopkins ’19: Exploring Connections Between Impressionism and Expressionism

Matthew Hopkins ’19 — As I reflect back on my four months abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, I realize how formative a time it was for me. I realize how much I’ve grown, I see the things I’ve learned – whether academically or culturally, and of course I was able to improve my French a bit too! It wasn’t always the easiest at times, but my journey abroad was a positive growing experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

In addition to my academics and cultural assimilation in France, a big reason I was even able to go abroad in the first place was thanks to the Givens Scholarship, which I was awarded the semester before I left.  The Givens Scholarship paid for my travel and admittance fees to several museums and historical sites around Europe. Thanks to the Givens, I was able to travel to Berlin to study German expressionism, Paris to study the French impressionists, and many things in between. Before I went abroad, I laid out a plan for what I was going to do with my award money. Though I had to cut a few things out once a got there, on account of the ongoing strikes in France which cancelled many trains and planes I had scheduled, my main goal for the Givens Scholarship was to explore the connections between Impressionism and Expressionism – a goal I feel I was able to reach (or, at least, I beganto reach).

I would like to talk about one specific trip I was able to take thanks to the Givens Scholarship.  About mid-way through the semester, I travelled to Paris, and one of the museums I went to was le Musée de l’Orangerie, to see Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.”  “Water Lilies” is regarded by some as the masterpiece of Monet, the French Impressionist. When you see it, it’s understandable why some would make that claim. First, the way they were presented – something Monet was very specific about. The painting, in its entirety, spans 8 massive landscape canvases, and these canvases are arranged, in order, around the perimeter of two ovular rooms, which are connected by a small walkway. Picture an infinity symbol shape as a room, and the walls in that room are covered in Monet’s art. The experience of entering that room is one that words could never do justice. Ethereal is the only descriptor that comes close.  The rooms are full of people, but strangely it doesn’t feel cramped – perhaps because the paintings themselves open up an entirely new world that you cannot enter physically, but are still somehow pulled into. Each room has benches in the center, and I sat here for what seems like hours (could have been), just following the stories on the walls.

The reason Monet’s “Water Lilies” was impactful to me is pretty clear, as it is for most everyone, but the reason I chose to talk about this in relation to my Givens Scholarship is perhaps just as intriguing. As I said above, I set out to see the connections between two different art movements – Impressionism and Expressionism, and I found the perfect marriage of those two in Monet’s “Water Lilies.” Monet completed this painting (I refer to it in the singular, because it really is just one painting) towards the end of his life – it wasn’t even put on exhibit until after his death — and you can begin to see the movement to a more abstract, expressionist style of painting in the work. Of course Monet was an Impressionist (maybe the Impressionist), so the characteristics of Impressionism are still very much alive in this work. I saw in Monet’s “Water Lilies,” vibrant Impressionism and budding Expressionism. The way the colors worked to tell stories was emblematic of Monet’s Impressionist style, but the slight tinkering with reality and play on proportions and perspective also showed the seeds of an Expressionist painter. Monet’s “Water Lilies” was truly a masterpiece.

We were not able to take pictures inside the “Water Lilies” room, and to be honest I think I preferred that. I decided to include a picture of me, standing in front of Mont Saint Victoire, which was the subject of hundreds of paintings by another French Impressionist master, Paul Cézanne.

I would like to thank the Givens family once again for the chance to expand my learning outside the classroom, to be able to see pieces of history in the flesh, and draw from them lessons no textbook could teach me.