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“Beyond Monet” helps visitors feel the works of the father of Impressionism

Photo by Timothy Norris
Timothy Norris
The "Beyond Monet" experience will be in Virginia Beach until Sept. 5.

The “Beyond Monet” exhibit in Virginia Beach is the largest immersive experience in the nation.

It's dreamy inside the Virginia Beach Convention Center where "Beyond Monet" invites visitors to experience the father of Impressionism by stepping into his art projected onto the walls and floor.

The high resolution screen show of Claude Monet's paintings comprises more than 4 trillion content pixels set to an original score that complements the symphony of colors changing before your eyes.

The hazy, vibrant scenes evoke a sense of peace and contentment. Occupying 50,000 square feet and encompassing more than 400 of his paintings, "Beyond Monet" in Virginia Beach is the largest immersive experience in the nation.

"Once you stroll through the exhibit, you have a sense of the movement and everything being alive around you," said Fanny Curtat, art historian for "Beyond Monet" and "Beyond Van Gogh,” which brought that iconic painter's works to life in nearly 40 U.S. cities last year, including Virginia Beach.

"Whether it's Monet or Van Gogh, I've seen widely different reactions," Curtat said. "I've seen people sit and take it all in an almost meditative state. I've seen people stroll around and dance and be very giddy. I've seen children following the brushstrokes and adults twirling along them. I've watched other people who are moved to tears."

The exhibit starts with an education about Monet, initially panned for a style that differed from the classic traditions of painting. French journalist Albert Wolff referred to Monet's "unfinished impressions" as "an old rag to broomstick" and criticized the plein air artist for forgetting the elementary rules of painting.

He and other critics didn't deter Monet, who used the canvas to express his feelings about nature, focusing on the beauty of simple subjects with a technique that made the ordinary extraordinary. As one of the first artists to paint outdoors, Monet studied the light's effect on his subjects and often captured the same ones repeatedly, such as with his water lily series, which is more than 250 paintings that depict the flower gardens at his home in Giverny, France.

Back in the 1890s, paying ode to water lilies was somewhat scandalous.

"They were exotic flowers and people were afraid they were contaminating the water," Curtat said.

Take care as to not step on them projected on the floor during the 37-minute immersive experience of "Beyond Monet."

Photo by Timothy Norris
Timothy Norris
The "Beyond Monet" exhibit is the largest immersive experience of its kind in the country, and is set up in different cities.

Pastel lovers will delight in feeling as if they are walking through the garden – so realistic that it's tempting to listen for bees. His landscapes of the French countryside that include parasails and picnics set a mood that changes dramatically when the scenes shift to the movement of water and ships.

Monet's view of the harbor and his painting "Sunrise," with orange and yellow hues of the foggy background contrasting with the darker colored boat, inspired the name of the Impressionist Movement.

Monet did not set out to paint a literal painting of the port in his hometown, Le Havre, France, but rather his impression of the natural scene.

"Beyond Monet" is on exhibit through Sept. 5. While it's not a replacement for seeing actual Monet on canvas, almost all of his art is housed at the Musée de L'Organerie in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery in London.

"There are not a lot of experiences where you can bring every generation of the family and everybody can experience it freely and have fun," Curtat said. "That's pretty special. For people like me who are familiar with his artwork, it's like a fantasy to be inside the works I have known for so long. It was dreamlike, knowing the painting and being able to walk inside of it after so long."

Visit Beyond Monet for more information and tickets.

WHRO's Vice President of News, Maurice Jones, and WHRO's President and CEO, Bert Schmidt, are members of the Virginia Arts Festival's Board of Directors. Jones and Schmidt are not involved with WHRO Journalism's editorial decisions.

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