A quick decision becomes a monumental one, thanks to Mr. Monet

click to enlarge My impression of Monet's Coastguards Cabin? Positive!
My impression of Monet's Coastguards Cabin? Positive!

A couple weeks back I traveled to Colorado to check an item off my music-geek bucket list.

Ever since I saw U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" video shot in 1983 to accompany their live album Under A Blood Red Sky, I've wanted to see Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in person. Somehow, despite ample opportunity, I never made it happen until I bought tickets in 2019 for a Black Crowes show originally scheduled for 2020, one that finally actually happened at the end of August 2021.

It wasn't the concert or the experience of the admittedly awesome venue that's going to stick with me from that quick getaway, though. Instead, an unexpected encounter with some long-dead artistic greats is what infused me with a much-needed spark as I returned home to Spokane, a charge I expected to get from the concert but instead got from the Denver Art Museum.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on arts communities everywhere, and I know it definitely kept me from exploring much in the way of local exhibits and openings over the past 18 months or so. I poked around some online galleries, but it's not the same. With an empty Sunday afternoon in Denver, I hit a show called The 19th Century in European and American Art.

That title doesn't sound too exciting, does it? The show is culled from the museum's permanent collection, a move museums large and small have had to make of late as traveling exhibits (like touring musicians) largely stopped, thanks to COVID-19. The museum workers were almost apologetic at not being able to have their full array of galleries open.

Here's the thing, though. The Denver Art Museum's permanent collection has some incredible works, and the paintings selected for this particular show left me genuinely gobsmacked at their beauty and their intensity.

If you're like me, you've cruised through a lot of art shows, festivals and galleries, and only rarely been so taken with something that you find yourself revisiting the same piece over and over.

That's exactly what happened when I came across Claude Monet's The Coastguards Cabin. Monet's impressionism has never been my favorite, and his nearby paintings of waterlilies and beaches did nothing for me. But something about seeing this cabin up close, zeroing in on the technique, and the colors exploding throughout the painting, took my breath away. Quite literally.

It inspired me to look at the rest of the show with a newly appreciative eye. There was a lot of Monet, as well as works by van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. And I might now be a superfan of Camille Pissarro, whose work I was utterly ignorant of before that show. His Autumn, Poplars, Eragny was incredible from mere inches away. But even as I found myself enraptured repeatedly by different pieces in the show, I kept circling back to that little cabin. So simple, so incredibly magnetic.

Even someone with my rudimentary knowledge of art history knows the names in this Denver Art Museum show are big-time. But what made the experience inspiring wasn't just seeing these masters' works in person. It was in the reminder that we can experience art and be inspired just as well here at home, through the talented artists filling our local shows and galleries, billboards, and building sides. You just have to take the time to get in front of the work. The closer the better. ♦

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...