My Own Homely Cathedral: An Hommage to Claude Monet

Claude Monet


Several years ago, while visiting France, I was taken to Rouen and shown the cathedral in their old city square. I was told how the Impressionist artist Claude Monet  (1840-1926) painted a famous series of canvases there, capturing the cathedral’s changing look as the daylight shifted and waned.

The Rouen cathedral, in an 1865 photo.

The idea of pursuing the ever-changing daylight and its visual impact was intriguing. But despite Monet’s achievement, Rouen’s cathedral, as such French edifices go, was in truth visually no great shakes.

The church of St. Joan of Arc, Rouen.

The Rouen tourist bureau must have figured this out, and tries to divert the attention of visitors to its more famous landmark, the spot nearby where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. There’s a new modernist chapel marking it.

A bit of one of Monet’s many paintings of the Rouen cathedral. Late afternoon, I think.

But memorials to the fiery execution of an underage woman for, among other trumped-up “offenses,” dressing as [gasp] a man while doing her country the service of saving it from an English invasion, somehow did not appeal.

“But it has great stained glass,” I was told. Of course. So call me a philistine peacenique americain.

Anyway, all that (except poor Joan) came back this morning, when I looked up from my chair and saw a mostly familiar sight: The rising sun filtered through the closed blinds behind me, reflected on the living room wall.

The colors of clutter, not a bad array: two blues, a hint of rose, serious purple, manila, bright yellow, beige and a cushion corner of brown.

When I moved in here, at first I thought I would hang a rotating gallery of my own art collection, posters, photos, kids drawings, whatnot on that wall.

But then, maybe due to my Quaker plain predilections, I found I preferred the wall unadorned. Uncluttered, if thee will. (The rest of the place, not so much.) And soon Nature, which I’m told abhors a vacuum, stepped in. Or rather, shone in.

Near the top of the image is a filmy version of an eye-shaped piece of stained glass that hangs in front of the blinds, placed by the Fair Wendy. As the sun rises, the whole image “sets” and sinks into the blue of our couch, gone in half an hour or so.

I call these “sun paintings.” I’ve watched them many times. They offer flashes of relief while flipping through online newspapers, catching up on yesterday’s disasters.

What was different this morning was, well, the couch clutter. It added a (to me) eye-catching variety of colors. And as the window-brightness shifted, I decided to bring out the phone camera, and do my own momentary turn as a kind of Monet manqué.

Fifteen minutes later, the “eye” is setting into the couch, where it and the background texture of the blinds all become essentially invisible. (Insert ponderous metaphors here: ________________________ .)

I’ve read that Monet rented a room across the square from the Rouen cathedral, and set up a dozen or so canvases in it, keyed to the hours. He went from one to the next, painting a patch on each as the daylight changed and waned. It took awhile.

My effort was not so strenuous, or extended. I did get up to shift a couple of the items to keep them in the light longer. But my “sun paintings” are always fleeting, especially if clouds are drifting past the sun.

No such issues today; right across from me was the face that’s launched a thousand ponderous metaphors. Long gone now, and but for this brief bloggery indulgence, it’s back to the day’s disasters, national and local.

Here’s our own stained glass “eye”. Nice, yes? It sees all; but fortunately it keeps quiet.

Thanks, Claude. And y’all have a good week.



4 thoughts on “My Own Homely Cathedral: An Hommage to Claude Monet”

  1. “As French cathedrals go, Rouen’s was in truth visually no great shakes”. Really???!!!

    That opinion would not have occurred to me! Definitely not! Rouen Cathedral can stand proudly along with Reims, Notre Dame, even Chartres. The stained glass is on a par with that of Chartres, the West facade is as graceful as you’ll find on any cathedral, and its 800 year construction schedule (including post WWII repair) make it a veritable history lesson on Gothic art and architecture.

    “No great shakes”!! Harrumph!

    1. Hmmm. Maybe my glasses needing cleaning that day, Jacob. But what can I say? I was also taken to Mont St. Michel, and while it looked more impressive from the outside, once I got up the 50 thousand-step stairs to it (seemed like that many) I couldn’t keep myself from wondering how the whole dang thing kept from falling off that hill right into the ocean. Maybe I’m cathedral-impaired, from being raised Catholic in the old days. . . .

      1. There’s a disorderly part of me that secretly wishes we Friends had buildings like the great Gothic cathedrals. Just picture MFW in the nave at Chartres. I know, I know:…it doesn’t fit with our testimony of simplicity. But still……

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