Like a water lily finding its place in Claude Monet’s painting "Pool, With Water Lilies", the namesake mare, Water Lily, seeks to find her place on the canvas of the Canadian equestrian world. It is not, however, as easy a task for the horse as Monet makes it seem for the flower. RSE Ambassador, Candice Hudson, stands right beside her to help her find her way.
If the essence of an early summer’s morning could be captured in a painting, it would seem that the Saturday morning of Water Lily’s recent competition is captured by a particular painting of Claude Monet’s entitled Matinée sur la Seine près de Giverny (Morning on the Seine near Giverny), oil on canvas, completed in 1897.
We continue to explore here the correspondence between Water Lily and her finding her place in the equestrian world, on the one hand, and the Water Lily Series of paintings by Monet, on the other. Both the water plants and the horse named after them need to be situated carefully in places particularly their own, so that they may have the opportunity to grow and change and blossom. Our Project here is to do what we can to assist this team of horse and rider to find their way, to achieve all that they can achieve, and become all that they can become. The new home for Water Lily, albeit a temporary one, was an important step in this regard.
Yet there is a much bigger world that awaits Water Lily beyond the pastures and barn of her new home, in much the same way as there was an entire world beyond the crafted ponds of Claude Monet at Giverny. Indeed, not far from the water lilies of Monet’s garden, the River Seine flows peacefully towards the English Channel, its waters eventually finding their way even beyond that to the North Sea. In the painting, Morning on the Seine near Giverny, it is as though there lies an entire world waiting to be discovered and explored just beyond the willow trees of the shoreline. It is as though not only the birth of the day is portrayed, but the world beyond the bend in the river, on the other side of the willows, is portrayed too by implication. It is a portrait of peace, but at the same time one of both anticipation and the power in the potential of Nature herself. The scene is one of serenity, but also one of a river that opens its hands to the world beyond this quiet locale. It is a quiet room on the river, true, but a room that is also part of a waterway that leads to the rest of the world. And thus, perhaps, part of the lesson here proffered by Monet is to appreciate and protect serenity when and where one finds it.
That Saturday morning at Cedar Valley, Ontario, you could almost feel the serenity of the early morning give way to the weight of expectation that surrounded Water Lily. The air was still and misty when Water Lily dismounted the trailer early that morning, coming to compete at the Royal Canadian Riding Academy. The appearance of the atmosphere in Morning on the Seine near Giverny seems much the same. You can almost feel the coolness and heaviness of the early morning air in the painting, the feeling of a coolness all too brief in the face of the soon-to-arrive heat of the day. The morning is a peaceful one and yet at the same time pregnant with expectation. The stillness of the early morning air seemed like the calm before the storm of equine power was released into the competitive field under a blazing sun later that morning.
What is intriguing about Monet’s approach to painting is the intensity of effort he placed in dedicating a given canvas to a particular presence of light. For example, Monet would work on numerous canvases at the same time, taking up each one in succession while the light for that particular painting was present.
Thus, for a number of reasons that Saturday morning of competition for Water Lily reminds one of the moment Monet rendered. And it is, indeed, a moment which Monet renders, as much as it is the landscape. What is intriguing about Monet’s approach to painting is the intensity of effort he placed in dedicating a given canvas to a particular presence of light. For example, Monet would work on numerous canvases at the same time, taking up each one in succession while the light for that particular painting was present. It was, then, a matter of the artist remaining sensitive to the changing light, painting, for example, for seven minutes or until the sunlight ceased to illuminate a particular leaf on a poplar tree. Indeed, to effect this Monet had a frame installed on the bottom of the boat he used as a studio so that each numbered canvas had its secure place. He then had his Gardener, who seems at times omnipresent in Monet’s world, hand him each canvas as he switched from one to the other as the light changed.
In a sense, Monet’s perspective is that one does what one can. Sometimes it is more, sometimes it is less. Monet’s concern is to be true to the moment, true to the particular combination of object and atmosphere, true to the response of his human subjectivity to the natural world, recreating the circumstances of that natural world until he could capture the moment, the scene in a particular light, on canvas. “Monet’s philosophy of painting was to paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see: not the object isolated as in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere...” (Lilla Cabot Perry)
So we strive to do here. We attempt to paint a portrait of Water Lily in words just as she is, not as someone might think she ought to be. Her story unfolds as it will. The story really is her story to tell.
And then the mood shifts somewhat, and you sense her raw power in the jumper ring. It is as if the world is just opening. You feel it as you watch the sun reflecting off of the hooves of our Water Lily all at once, as though she is airborne, without any hooves on the ground at all.
There is a peacefulness to watching Water Lily’s motion as she begins to cantor around the Jumper Ring in anticipation of the competition. Her demeanour in the ring tells us that she feels at home there. She is relaxed and comfortable with Candice astride her. But along the borders of the ring she also has an entire family of those interested in her well-being and journey. She knows, it seems, that she is surrounded by interest, concern, even love.
And then the mood shifts somewhat, and you sense her raw power in the jumper ring. It is as if the world is just opening. You feel it as you watch the sun reflecting off of the hooves of our Water Lily all at once, as though she is airborne, without any hooves on the ground at all. You hear her power in the steady rhythm of her hooves hitting the ground as she makes her turn around the bend.
There is unchanneled energy here to be sure. Water Lily’s energy is released in imperfectly controlled movement, her power spilling onto the green grass like a downpour of rain. You see evidence of her tremendous energy and power as she comes out of the hurdle and is asked to make the turn towards the next jump. Water Lily’s head rears down and then back up again, her energy and power spilling over the neat lines drawn by the hands holding her reigns. It is clear that she is fully engaged in the moment. It is not an act of disobedience so much as it is a moment of youthful power that has found an outlet in the Jumper Ring, but still needs to be reminded to stay within the lines set out for her by Candice’s touch. Like the power held in the Giverny sky, it is as if Water Lily tells us that there is more power here than there might seem: ‘Let me show you all that I have to give,’ she seems to say. The beauty of the sport resides in good measure in this situation of unbounded power and energy that are to be guided within the boundaries of a circumscribed field and over purposefully placed jumps.
Standing almost still, a gentle movement forward and then back again, like a willow along the bank of the River Seine, Water Lily waited for her name to be called to enter the competition ring. Her coat glistened in the sunlight, having turned a deep brown from the sun bleaching her winter black coat over the course of the summer. There are many evidences of the love of this horse. Her black mane is one of them, cropped neatly and combed to the side, its bottom edge an almost perfectly straight line.
Lilla Cabot Perry, “Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909” in The American Magazine of Art (March, 1927). Also included in Monet: A Retrospective, Ed. Charles F. Stuckey (New York: Park Lane, 1986) pp. 183, 184.
Candice Hudson’s Riding Boots provided by MF Equestrian.
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.