Landscape Near Menton - Midsummer's Night Dream

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Pierre Auguste Renoir, Landscape Near Menton, 1883

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
--William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Oberon describes the Fairy Queen Titania's bower, where she sleeps.

At first glace, Renoir’s Landscape Near Menton is a calm, picturesque bank, much like Queen Titania’s in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, much like Midsummer, nothing is really as it seems. The violent brushstrokes give the painting a frenzied sense of movement. Wind whips through the turbulent grasses, flowers bend against their will, even the way the colors seem to crash against each other in a permanent state of agitation. The dark blues, greens, and blacks rebel against their pastel counterparts. This painting lives in polarity, constantly contradicting itself. A typically placid view suddenly transforms into a colossal mess.

And that brings us to Midsummer, the love story gone so wrong, it’s actually right. Midsummer admits that love is tumultuous, chaotic even. Throughout the whole play, Shakespeare mocks the concept of true love. He plays games with the actors and the audience and leaves both groups helpless against his will. The play moves swiftly, but leaves us unsettled. It never progresses, just wavers back and forth for three acts, a whirlwind of plot, until finally Shakespeare gives us the happy ending we were hoping for.  Like Landscape Near Menton, Midsummer is not static. We like to think we know what we are seeing, be it a love story or a landscape, but we probably don’t. I chose Landscape Near Menton because I thought it portrayed Titania’s bower, but it did so much more. The painting is the essence of the play: a pretty picture full of chaos, making you appreciate it so much more once you realize you didn’t understand it at all.

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