This morning I finally made it off the premises by car. I spent nearly half an hour before going out lifting slabs of compacted icy snow out of the lane with a large garden fork, and chopping further lumps off the edges of the remaining drifts where the clearance even for a Skoda still looked a bit tight, but then succeeded in skating down the track at the first attempt, with revs up and in first gear, only sliding sideways a couple of times. Once I got to the farmyard slush and the open road awaited.
The object of my excursion was Tate Britain, whose exhibition Impressionists in London runs until 7 May. It's been on for some time already, and a friend and I had been meaning to go, today being the date we'd finally agreed as being good for both of us. Lucky we hadn't fixed on last week, or we'd have been back to square one.
The first room was not exactly what I'd expected, being about Paris rather than London, and it took me a moment to get my brain into gear and realise that the point of it was to set the scene in terms of the Franco-Prussian war, the siege of Paris, and the chain of events in France that had sent various French painters off to London in the first place. I had not known that Tissot served as a stretcher bearer, and learning that made me see his subsequent polished pictures of the middle classes at leisure in a different light. Actually, I have always liked Tissot. I get the impression from the BBC art documentaries we watch that he is rather out of fashion at the moment, but I shall not let that put me off.
About all I knew of the siege of Paris was which war it was in and the date, and the fact that Arnold Bennett maroons one of his heroines there in The Old Wives' Tale. I could not have told you anything about the communards, and my friend knew no more than I did. We agreed that we would have to look it up when we got home and so expand our knowledge of French history. As we went on to the next rooms we discovered our knowledge of French art history was even less than we'd thought, because there were several artists represented we'd never heard of at all, some of whom we really liked, as well as Camille Pissarro (who we had heard of and do like. As originally constructed that sentence appeared to place him in opposition to painters we liked. Tricky thing, prose, at the end of a long day).
Finally we got to Monet's views of the Thames, gathered together from museums on both sides of the Atlantic and across Europe, and worth the trip all by themselves. We spent a long time looking at them and debating which one we liked best, and how on earth he did it, when the surface of the paintings so clearly represented water when seen from several yards away, while only looking like multi-coloured splodges at the distance Monet must have been standing at while he painted them. The exhibition was not terribly busy and so we were able to indulge ourselves doing that annoying thing of standing with our faces right up in front of the canvases looking at the individual brush marks, without incurring the silent hatred of hordes standing behind us who wanted to see the Monets and not the backs of our heads. I could not pick a favourite. Like with Rothkos the quieter ones would probably grow on you after you'd looked at them for an hour or two, and we decided the best solution would simply be to have all of them.
I thought Monet must be the end and suggested coming back for another look after we'd had a cup of tea, but there turned out to be one more room, with three vivid and cheerful Thames views by Derain. I adored Fauvism from my first childhood trip to the Courtauld, and it would have been a very hard choice between one of those and the Monets. Neither being available we went for tea, and then came back for a final look.