High ceilings and big windows, Impressionist art and marble sculptures, a cafe and a pigment lab: these are some of the perks that lured me to the Harvard Art Museum as soon as I set foot on campus.
Further exploration only secured its spot in my heart as my favorite place at Harvard. I can spend hours upon hours there, studying on the first floor with a croissant or walking around the third floor where new exhibitions frequently appear. There always seems to be something I haven’t noticed before, and these moments of discovery are so exciting! Last Saturday I had a free day, so I went to get a last look at their exhibit on the Bauhaus and Harvard before it closed. However, during my visit I ended up feeling more drawn in by a permanent gallery piece I had already seen before, a painting by Monet called The Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris: Arrival of a Train.
This painting was the largest painting from a series of twelve on the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris. The first thing I took stock of was the color palette, predominantly grey/blue punctuated by moments of black and brown. There was so much texture in the painting as well, coming from too many different kinds of brushstrokes for me to even classify. Every angle and every step back offered a new perspective, not just like adjusting the lens of a camera but more so like entering into a new scene. Dark and light spaces pushed into one another, pulling my eyes from corner to corner and cloud to cloud. What really prompted me to stop and think though, was simply the subject matter. The train arrives many times a day, every single day. There’s not much in this painting or the title to suggest that Monet was painting a remarkable event. Looking at it, the weather appears overcast, the ground is a muddy brown; there is no miracle sunrise to split the sky into gold or lend a little bit of divinity to the scene. It’s human but devoid even of distinct faces or figures. And yet, this arrival has stood the test of one hundred forty-two years and, in that way, I was allowed to arrive upon it as well. All because Monet witnessed it.
I’m a rising junior at Harvard now. During my freshman year, the campus felt like Mount Olympus, the gates of Heaven, something persistently remarkable. Two years later my gratitude remains, but the magic isn’t always there. Like I expect the train to arrive, I have begun to expect to attend class, look for job opportunities, and manage the logistics of my life. Looking at The Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris: Arrival of a Train, however, reminded me that isn’t as much about the scene as it is the eyes. When I give tours to prospective students, I see the excitement on their faces as they take in Memorial Hall and Harvard Yard. My parents still get excited to hear about every single detail of shopping week when I call them in September, and when I Facetime my great uncle, he has endless questions about what I’m studying. Monet witnessed the train’s arrival at the station. He witnessed it blue and he witnessed it beautiful and he witnessed it worthy of being memorialized. This upcoming year, I hope to look at my life at Harvard in the same way. To see my days with wide, excited eyes and consider that every moment really is worth being remembered.