Akeena Legall reports on a visit to the Louvre with Prof. Medin’s German Romanticism class

‘The Divine is Everywhere, even in a Grain of Sand’

Any previous authentic exposure to Romanticism that I can speak of happened last semester with Dr. Christine Baltay and her lessons on famous British and French Romantic painters, like Gainsborough, Turner, Gericault and Delacroix. Looking at paintings in the Louvre such as The Wreck of the Medusa, I felt that sense of emotionality, of inner struggle and the transience of life and beauty in the all encompassing face of nature that one can say is attributed to the genre of Romantic paintings. But the impact didn’t seem to stay for long: I astutely observed the paintings, scribbled comments about brushstroke techniques and iconographic meanings, and went about preparing notes in a cold and academic fashion.

There was a part of me that always felt sad in surrendering to that acute sense of divorce I feel when looking at pictures that depict nature. Typical exclamations of the painter’s talent and the painting’s beauty run through my mind, and then I usually go after analyzing it from a compositional perspective. But the emotional tug that I initially feel does not endure, and I usually walk away from these works of art thinking, I am a city girl, born and bred. And with that realization, we have the facts: everything I enjoy in life comes from rat-race, big city living. I am not a girl you can strand in nature who will have the sudden impulse to just connect with her surroundings.

This changed on our Louvre visit! My love for Caspar David Friedrich had already started when I had to research him for my presentation. I loved his technique of rendering the “sitters” back to us so that we would super-impose our own observational nature on them. I was fascinated with their functionality: they served like “almost” staffage so we could be witness to the absolute wonder of nature, and the manner in which I was arrested in my introspection, allowing the impact of the painting to stay with me and further colour my feelings and thoughts.

Our visit to the Louvre reminds me of words of Friedrich’s I had stumbled across when trying to find words on his life influencing his technique: I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am. Solitude is indispensable for my dialogue with nature.

Friedrich, Bord de mer au clair de lune

Visits to the Louvre are always exciting, but when Professor Medin told us that we were going to immerse ourselves in simulated natural environment through the paintings, I scuffled about the museum room moving as hushed and awed as a specter. I loved how the paintings would be almost eerie if not for the comforting prescence of nature, or that nature was even depicted as a destructive force that regenerates life, or that beauty could possibly spring from ruin.
My favourite painting that we saw during the visit is Bord de mer au clair de lune besides the heightened contrast, breathtaking detail of the boats and the almost divine light occupying the upper third of the picture plane, I loved the obscured moon, pointing back to that lack of resolve and sense of Sensucht typically attributed to German Romantic painting.

Now, not everything changed in the Louvre. I will still pitch a hissy fit if I find myself waking up in a tent and no automated toilets and clean and running water nearby, but perhaps, beneath a tree or on a crag as in Friedrich’s Wanderer, I might look inward for a moment, or the tug of Romanticism might just tug, a little longer.