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Beauty, from "Garden at Sainte-Adresse," a painting by Claude Monet

Subthemes: Beauty in Nature, Beauty in Man-Made Artifacts, Situation Influences

A tour-de force painting of nature’s splendor, Monet chose a seaside garden on a sparkling day. Vibrant flowers and snapping flags, graced with elegant visitors admiring the azure channel near Le Havre speckled with ships under pillowy clouds, every part teems with beauty. The impressionist painters strived to capture the fleeting features of weather and the outdoors, and Monet’s “Garden at Sainte-Adresse,” on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stands out as one of the finest exemples.

Monet’s Garden at St. Adresse

Beauty in Nature: Why do we call a vivid sunset, a broad rainbow, or trees ablaze with autumnal leaves “beautiful”? Because such wonders combine colors, texture, balance and fertility into a je ne sais quoi that has forever captivated not just artists but all of us. A flower arrangement, sparkled sunlight on water, bright fish darting among coral, a river bending, starry clear skies, captivating eyes, purple mountain majesties – nature gifts us beauty everywhere we look. A.E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” appreciates that:

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

From the tiniest creatures to the most majestic vistas, our world lavishes on us visual delights: spiderwebs bejeweled with dew, a host of golden daffodils, the aurora borealis, or monarch butterflies migrating. Man-made objects and structures pale against the extravagance from nature’s bounteous beauty.

Beauty in Man-Made Artifacts: Aside from nature, Monet also captured sail ships, the garden patio, wicker chairs, umbrellas, and stylish clothing. When artfully crafted, man-made objects can also be beautiful. Objet d’art appeal deeply to us, such as a Faberge egg, a crown of jewels, or a Grecian urn, and often deserve to be called “beautiful.” Their beauty reflects time lavished on them, the quality of the materials and design, and the mastery of the maker. Larger creations such as Mont Saint-Michel, the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, the Golden Gate Bridge, Michelangelo’s “David”, or an intricate carpet also come to mind. Classical music boasts astonishing pieces, such as Beethoven’s adagio sostenuto in the Moonlight Sonata or “Un bel di vedremo” from “Madama Butterfly.” John Keats wrote “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (from “Endymion”) which expresses how pleasurable are the excellent handiworks of creative people.

Situation Influences: Monet’s lush painting pours out sunlight, shadows, wafting smoke, preening flowers preening, the tang of saltwater, the warmth of a Spring day, and the rustle of leaves. Each stimulus merges in a harmonious composition and none of them dominate. But worsen the situation and any of them would attract more notice. A hummingbird garners far more admiration in a concentration camp than in an aviary; the flowers in the intensive care unit cheer more than if they were at the front of a church. The 15th contestant of a beauty pageant may hardly turn an eye but would catch eyes on a sidewalk. We notice beauty according to our circumstances and according to our concerns at the time. The four people in the garden appear to have not a care in the world so they can immerse themselves in the spectacle; if one of them faces bankruptcy or worries that their cancer is terminal, the graces of the scene would diminish. Recognition of beauty waxes or wanes by the observer’s mood.

 

Monet’s painting, “The Garden at St. Adresse,” exudes natural beauty. Its profusion of prettiness almost overwhelms the viewer. The garden is carefully designed and tended, but only nature can gild the flowers, glitter the water, and billow the clouds. Likewise, the handiwork of skillful artisans can produce objects large and small that are acclaimed for their beauty. And with either natural or man-made beauty, our sense of enjoyment varies hugely by our circumstances.

To consider subthemes of Beauty that are not associated with this painting or the other three creative works discussed in this set, please visit Additional Subthemes. Read this for more about Themes from Art.

We invite you to read about other paintings discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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