During my life, I’ve visited many museums and seen many paintings. I’ve been to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and several others. In London, I visited the British Museum, the National Gallery and others. Tour guides have told me about the paintings, or, in some instances, an audio tour guide. I enjoyed studying the pictures and especially learning about their history and how they were important in their time.
But that’s it. Only occasionally would a painting really speak to me and have an emotional impact. In general, I would study the symbolism or look at the picture in a whole to see what it meant. Even Rembrandts Nachtwacht was not all that impressive to me, in real life. But there was one painting…
In 2009, I visited the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, where I lived at the time. I know I was alone. I’m not entirely sure why I went there, but it might have been because they had a showing of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. While studying English literature at the university, we had discussed these paintings, and I loved the style. The paintings by Rossetti, and ‘Ophelia’ by John Everett Millais, I remember being struck by their beauty during class. I loved the detail, the colours, the stories these pictures told. I’m not really an art-buff, but these works I loved.
What an Impact
So anyway, I saw there was an exhibition in the local museum of this period, and I decided to visit. I can honestly say I don’t recall any of the works, except for one. ‘Flaming June‘ by Sir Frederic Leighton
In my memory, this painting hung separately in a room. When I first encountered it, there were no other visitors around. I entered this room, and the immensity of the painting hit me. It was huge, colourful, grand, all at once. The powers of the colours hit me, the details of how the dress flowed—the serenity of the sleeping girl. Even now, more than ten years later, I can hardly put to words how it made me feel. I really was struck by this painting.
I stared at it for a long time. I begrudgingly had to step aside to give other visitors a chance to look at it too. This painting was mind-boggling impressive.
Seeing ‘Flaming June‘ in real life, was the first and only time a painting had such an impact on me. I’m not sure why it had such a massive effect on me. Maybe it was the setting in the museum. Perhaps it was because I was alone and there weren’t many visitors around me. Or the painting was just that good.
Paintings Are Art Too
My husband is not that much into art. He doesn’t ‘get’ this sort of thing. He likes history and enjoys seeing pictures, but he thinks seeing paintings online is basically just as good as seeing the real deal. You don’t get annoying schoolchildren screaming and crying when studying these works from your home. In that sense, he’s right. But after my encounter with this one painting, I know it can be more. Works of art such as this one should be seen, experienced even, live.
I had heard about people being emotionally affected by paintings, but I never really got it. Until I turned that corner in the museum and visited ‘Flaming June.’ Now I know that’s really a thing. It’s not just literature and music that can have an impact, the visual arts can be just as impressive.