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Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted “On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt” in 1868.  He was only twenty-eight.  It’s brilliant.  The brush strokes are lively, the colors are tranquil.  But is the feeling of the painting as a whole tranquil?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s gloomy. Why does this painting have a dark mood despite its bright colors?  Why do we imagine this  woman to be sad? The inclusion of the boat at that angle, lifts the mood a bit, but still,  what a downer.  Why would such a young man paint an image with so much tension in it?

He didn’t.  What you see above is a horizontal flip of the real painting.  What Monet painted is reproduced below here. This is what we see at the Art Institute.  Isn’t this more tranquil?  Aren’t we more inclined to empathize with this woman rather than the woman on the right?  The boat, again, complicates the picture. Here it slants down, making us suspect that all is not well in this life.  If he had painted the boat slanting up from left to right, the image would be unbearably cheerful, even  corny.  Try it.

What’s interesting and important to note is that the information conveyed in each version is the same. So, it’s not about information.  If it’s not about information, what then?  I can tell you this much: it’s about feeling and empathy.  This is the third of left-right flips. If you follow these posts, it’ll dawn on you.  This should be fun.  (Go to Topics in the column at right and choose Left-Right)

Let’s go back to the boat again. Look what happens when we take out the boat altogether.  Would you agree that the boat is not there because Monet wants to tell us that the woman rowed it to the bank of the river? The boat is not part of a narrative, but is needed to complicate the mood and lend depth to the image.

Click the thumbnails  to enlarge and then play with the boat question.

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