Yes, it’s true, I have a Monet hanging on the bathroom wall. The painting is titled “The Garden at Vétheui.” If you look carefully, you can see the bathroom window and the photographer reflected in the glass. Painted in 1880, or 81, depending on who you believe, it was part of a project the artist started to paint things he enjoyed before he died. His name is Claude-Oscar Monet, or Oscar-Claude Monet, again depending on whom you believe. Something you might not know, neither Claude nor Oscar was his middle name. Middle names were not used for hundreds of years and didn’t come back in to vogue until the nineteenth century. In fact, only three of our first seventeen presidents had middle names. Yeah, go ahead, think about it. What was George Washington’s middle name? Didn’t have one. How about Abraham Lincoln? Nope. Thomas Jefferson? I wish I didn’t have a middle name. I hate mine.
Monet is considered the father of “impressionism.” His first financially successful painting was titled “Impression – Sunrise.” The title actually gave name to the movement, “Impressionism.” What is an impressionist? Do you really think I know. All I know is I suffered through “Art History” as a freshman in college because I had to, and because of that I know the term, and I can immediately recognize a Monet (even without the identifying label on the bottom of the painting in my bathroom), a Van Gogh, an El Greco, and a bronze by Frederick Remington. I even know what an altar piece is. I appreciate fine art, but mostly because it is something I could never afford to own, and I have to go to one of those stuffy art museums to see it.
Monet is credited with over 2,500 works of art in his 86 years of life, and another interesting little bit of trivia is that his paintings, especially his later ones, often appear out of focus, or soft focus. Did you ever wonder why? Of course you didn’t, but I discovered that it was because he suffered from cataracts. You can use that little bit of information when you are at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC where the original of my Monet is displayed. Stand in front of the painting, admiringly, and say to the stranger that walks up, “Did you know that Oscar-Claude Monet suffered from cataracts and that’s why his paintings are out of focus?” Don’t go all redneck and call him “Mo-net” either. His name is pronounced “mo-nay.” And don’t say something like you know a guy that has that exact same painting hanging in his bathroom.
Just to give you an idea why the painting in my bathroom is not an original Monet, and probably retails for $24.95 including the gold frame, but I probably bought it at a yard sale for $5, is this: in 2008 Christie’s sold “Le bassin aux nymphéas” (from the water lilies series) for $80,451,178 with fees.
One other thing about the Monet in my bathroom. Obviously I see it every day as I walk past to shave and shower. For the life of me, I always thought that was a little girl in the garden by the wagon in the foreground. It’s not. It’s Monet’s young son. Back a ways in the painting is his wife and another child. Oh, and he planted that garden at a rental house. I guess I’m not the only one that landscapes the yards of the houses I don’t own.
Enough with the art. You know who William Faulkner was, right? William Cuthbert Faulkner (Yep, he had a middle name and probably hated it too.) was a famous American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. President Kennedy, in 1962, invited Faulkner to the White House for dinner. The cantankerous author, then living in Charlottesville, Virginia, declined, explaining: “Why that’s a hundred miles away. That’s a long way to go just to eat.” Source: The New York Times. You got to be somebody special to turn down dinner at the White House. He died July 6 that same year.
Well, that was what was on my mind this morning when I sat down to write this. Two things, unrelated as usual, but maybe they’re both about middle names. Maybe not.