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Finding Your Window

I stopped counting the days that we’ve been quarantined. As the weeks went by, all the days started to feel the same. On the news all you hear is COVID this and COVID that, along with more people getting sick. On social media you see people not following social distancing rules.

One morning I turned off the TV and muted my social media. I found myself looking out my second-floor bedroom window—something that I often do, but on this particular day, I looked with a different lens. I saw an ocean of trees with different hues of green along with rows of animated houses. It reminded me of Paul Cézanne’s Landscape near Paris

Across a grassy field, a row of buildings and two trees line the horizon, which comes about halfway up this nearly square landscape painting. The field is painted with visible brushstrokes of sage, moss, and mint green as well as caramel brown, parchment white, and turquoise blue. The trees, to our left of center, are painted with dark green. The buildings have charcoal-gray or terracotta-red roofs with cream-white or slate-blue walls. The sky above is painted with dabs and strokes of ice and baby blue, with areas of pale peach and ivory white to suggest clouds.

Paul Cézanne, Landscape near Paris, c. 1876, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.103

I’ve always wanted to visit France, and I was really looking forward to traveling there this summer. I was accepted into an artist residency at Chateau d’Orquevaux, but of course those plans were canceled due to COVID. As I sat at the window taking in the view of my newly discovered Cézanne, I realized just how much I missed work and the museum experience. Thank you, window. 

Two women with pale skin look out at us from the other side of a rectangular window opening with a shadowy interior behind them in this vertical painting. On our right, in the lower third of the composition, one young woman leans toward us over her left arm, which rests along the window ledge. She bends her right arm and props her chin on her fist. She looks at us with dark brown eyes under dark brows. She has shiny chestnut-brown hair with a strawberry-red bow on the right side of her head, to our left. She has a straight nose, and her full pink lips curve up in a smile. She wears a gossamer-white dress with a wide neckline trimmed in dark gray, with another red bow on the front of her chest. Her voluminous sleeves are pushed back to her elbows. To our left, a second woman peeks around a partially opened shutter. She is slightly older, and she stands next to the first woman with her body facing us. She tilts her head and also gazes at us with dark eyes under dark brown brows. She has dark brown hair covered by an oyster-white shawl. She holds the shawl up with her right hand to cover the bottom half of her face. Her mouth is hidden but her eyes crinkle as if in a smile. Her left arm bends at the elbow as she grasps the open shutter. She also wears a white shirt pushed back to her elbows, and a rose-pink skirt. The frame of the window runs parallel to the sides and bottom of the canvas. The room behind them is black in shadow.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Two Women at a Window, c. 1655/1660, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.46

I picked up a book from my desk on the Gallery’s permanent collection and started skimming through when Two Women at a Window by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo caught my eye. We see two women framed by a window with a slightly opened shutter. What lies behind them is uncertain; the background is dark and vague. One of the women is peeking from behind the shutter, hiding her smile, while the other is front and center, not shying away. Their attention is fixated on something, but what?

I was only familiar with Murillo’s religious-themed paintings, so for me it was interesting to see his lens shift toward a more contemporary genre. I imagine Murillo passing through the town and noticing these women giggling from the window. They might have been hard to ignore. The genius of this painting is that Murillo was able to reverse the roles of the viewer and the subject. We (the viewers) have become the subject that these women are viewing. They’re observing us as if we are a work of art. Personally, I start to check and question myself as if I’m looking in a mirror. Is my hair okay, is there anything on my face? Did I miss a button, do my shoes match? Or am I just a gorgeous human being? Murillo gifts us with this window of an opportunity where we can imagine for ourselves what could possibly be so amusing to these women.

What do you see when you look out your window? Where do you see yourself? I see myself traveling to France, meeting beautiful people, and visiting museums to get up close and personal with a Cézanne. I challenge you to shift your own lens. Despite the uncertainties that may be surrounding us, like in the painting of the two women, let’s be hopeful. Imagine your next vacation, or imagine yourself getting dressed up for a night out with friends.

Find your window.