Miraculously the traffic wasn’t bad on my way to work yesterday morning. I had a few minutes to myself in the car. So I pulled up “A Washerwoman” by Pissarro, the featured painting on the Met’s Instagram feed for the morning. My heart sunk. All that gorgeous paint and this is it? This is how you wanted said washerwoman to be memorialized for all human kind? If she got to see the canvas when Pissarro took a pee break, I guarantee she wasn’t impressed. Crestfallen, in fact. Utterly horrified, quite possibly. This is how I look? I didn’t think I looked THAT bad. This is my lasting impression?
Sometimes someone takes a photograph and you’re in the background. Is that how I look when I’m just going about my day? Who finds me beautiful with such an ordinary expression on my face. Did I think I looked beautiful that day?
This washerwoman…she is utterly pedestrian. The trees and hint of yellow sunflowers in the background are a cruel contrast to her grunt work. The background seems to sing of everything Spring. She just washes. Drab clothes and fine silk. She washes all it, all day long.
Her back is starting to hunch, the arch is beginning.
Her feet are flat and dull. They’ve never worn heels. I hate that they never will. I’ll bet she isn’t even 35, but physical labor is cruel to beauty. She is thin, not because it is fashionable but because she’s broke.
She can’t get calories to stick. She sweats them off. Her arms are thin, sinewy. Her arms make her money. Vigorously she washes peoples clothes, all day long.
But then you take a step forward, if you can see this painting in person at The Met or if you increase the image size here you see its finer points. Every inch of the painting is made up of small patches of pure color. And you realize that the pedestrian subject is not the masterpiece here. The painter’s eye is the point (pun intended). If the painting is about anything it’s that color is flaming in every ordinary human being.
Pissarro uncapped every color tube available and called it all so good. He said all colors belong. The ordinary woman’s face is rendered in rich, youthful pinks and reds. Every color on the spectrum has been used to paint her forearms, they blaze with browns and gold and blue and green. Point by point, up close she is a study in color. From far away she is utterly ordinary. Up close she is knit together by a revolutionary eye. God, open our eyes!
Matthew 13:16 “But blessed are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear.”