In early 2007, I traveled to The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in the Berkshires to study John Singer Sargent’s Fumée d’Ambre Gris for my senior thesis. This was my first ever solo-trip. I flew into Manchester, New Hampshire, rented a car, and braved the winding, high speed roads to Massachusetts and fell in love with this charming, treasure-filled museum tucked away in the mountains.
The Clark is known for it’s fabulous collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and just down the hall from the Sargent that I had traveled to see, hung Monet’s The Cliffs at Etretat. Painted just five years after Sargent’s exotic North African woman, Monet’s painting depicts the northern French coastline, a fashionable vacation spot among the 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie.
Both works play with light and color and create a feeling of solitude and calm around their main subjects. While Monet’s invokes an inviting tranquility, Sargent’s creates in the viewer the feeling of a voyeur intruding on a private moment.
To date, I have not been lucky enough to insert myself into Sargent’s North African setting and observe its culture even as an outsider, but on my way home from Normandy the other day, I was lucky enough to visit Monet’s inspiration: Etretat. (Just you’re average road trip lunch stop! I still can’t get over how lucky S and I are to be living in Europe.) While the town today is not the vibrant vacation village of the Parisian bourgeoisie that it once was, it is still well worth a visit for a hike around these breathtaking cliffs where the land seems to have broken off into the English Channel.
Next stop Morocco? It’s not on the books yet, but I’d love to complete my real-life tour of The Clark!