Two years ago I visited Paris, the city of my dreams, around New Years Eve. Paris had always been a top contender on my very long bucket list, so when my time came to finally visit I had to have it planned out perfectly. I knew I only had six days there so I made sure to fill those days with memories I’d always remember: climbing the Eiffel Tower at sunset, buying a painting from an artist fair in Sacre Couer, wandering through the Gardens of Versaille, lighting a candle in Notre Dame, seeing the Mona Lisa in person.
The morning of my visit to Louvre was a frigid one. I woke up in my petite hotel room on the Rue du Bac and dressed myself in the warmest layers I could find in my suitcase. The Rue du Bac was a very short ways from the River Seine, only a couple of blocks. I passed street cafes with wooden chairs and tables scattered across the sidewalks, flower vendors flooded with pink peonies, and chic boutiques selling scarves for hundreds and hundreds of euros. When I finally made my way out by the river the Louvre was directly in front of me. I crossed one of the many river bridges and was there in no time. In total it was only about a 10 minute walk from where I was staying. How lucky am I, I remember thinking, to head out each morning and be greeted by the Louvre?
I have never been a huge fan of sculpture so I didn’t pay much attention in those galleries (something I now regret). My whole heart was set on the Mona Lisa, which I already knew was going to be smaller than what I expected– every person who heard I was going to Paris decided to ruin that little surprise for me.
I was happily headed toward the painting galleries when I completely lost my way and that’s when I saw it. Not “it” as in the Mona Lisa, “it” as in The Winged Victory.
The Winged Victory, also known as the Nike of Samothrace, stood at the top of a grand white staircase. My body felt numb. I was in awe. My eyes were practically falling out of my head. With each step up, I rose higher and higher until I was the closest to her level I could get without a guard yelling at me. The crowd no longer bothered or irritated me. I silently weaved my way through hundreds of bodies as if I was a ghost. No one seemed to notice me cutting in front of them, but I don’t think I would have heard them even if they’d said something.
As I previously mentioned, I’d never been a fan of sculpture before. I knew nothing about The Winged Victory besides its name because I’d seen it on a plaque. In that moment, I think the mysteriousness of the figure made me fall in love with the piece faster and harder. I loved her the moment I saw her, and since that day I have yet to fall in love with any other sculpture the way I did with her.
The large figure had no arms or head. No face to be recognized, identified, or remembered by. I’d seen countless sculptures of famous historians, warriors, etc., all with faces, and none of them had ever intrigued me. Yes they were art and yes they were important to many people but to be very honest they bore me. This sculpture, without any hint of trace of an actual person, was the most confident and graceful sculpture I’d ever seen. She stood tall, poised, and fierce – her chest extended outward, as if she was leading a crowd or prepared to fight someone. She was standing her ground. The cloth around her body looked as if it was either wet or as if she was facing an incredible gust of wind. The drapery clung to skin, showcasing her curves. She looked dreamy and romantic. Her wings extended upward, catching natural light from the surrounding windows.
I did see the Mona Lisa right after, and while I could talk for ages about how amazing that was, I think there was something truly special about my experience seeing The Winged Victory. A year after I saw her I was sitting in my Art History class when she popped up on the projector. My professor began lecturing on the Nike and I felt as if I was going to fall off my chair from squirming with excitement. When I think of my experiences in Paris this particular morning is one of the defining moments.
I avoided sculpture for so long because I had a mindset that it was boring. It took me years to find a sculpture I liked, which then seemed to open up a whole new world. Now when I enter museums, I make sure to never leave anything out. As an art major of any kind, I think it is so important to always keep an open mind when viewing art. I may not like the art, but it is important to give it a chance. If I still end up not liking it, that’s totally fine – but I am no longer ignorant or clump work together by medium.
Just as people say you never know what’s around the corner, you never truly know what’s in the gallery across the hall.