Thursday, June 15, 2017

Out and About: Tokyo-Paris at the Musée de l'Orangerie

Crépuscule à Venise, Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 1908

Living in Paris, there are constant distractions in the art world.  So many you don’t know which way to turn.
     The other day, I took a visiting friend to see Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie Museum, after having shown him the real thing at Monet’s country home in Giverny and then the Monet collection at the Marmottan Museum in Paris.
     There’s also an Impressionist collection on the basement level of the Orangerie.  I’ve seen it multiple times.  Remarkable though it is, I wasn’t up to seeing it again, so I pointed him in the right direction and then went to the left to see a temporary exhibit called Tokyo-Paris.
     Based on a title like that, I never would have gone to see it if left to my own devices, but seeing as I was already there...  And I’m very glad I did because it’s an amazing exhibit of works collected  by a rich Japanese industrialist named Shôjirô Ishibashi (1889-1976), otherwise known as the founder of the Japanese tire giant, Bridgestone.  (You may have some of his tires on your car right now.)

Marine, Mera - Aoki, oil, 1904

Many late 19th century French artists adored Japanese art, and Monet was one of them.  If you visit his home in Giverny, you’ll see his collection on the walls.
     But at the start of the 20th century, as the Meiji period came to a close and Japan opened up to the rest of the world, Japanese artists started to take some of their inspiration from Western Impressionists.  They called this artistic genr Yôga, which literally means “Western-style painting”.
     The very first piece in this exhibit is by one of those artists, Shigeru Aoki (1882-1911).  It’s simply entitled “Marine, Mera” (1904), Mera being a place in the south of Chiba Prefecture.  This seascape is very reminiscent of other marines by other artists, and the rocky coastline could be somewhere in New England or along France’s north Brittany shores.

Nymphéas, Monet, oil, 1907
Most of the pieces, however, were French in origin, perhaps because, as the exhibit description explains, Ishibashi “admitted to a market preference for French Impressionists”.  And when any were being sold by other Japanese collectors, he bought them up so they would stay in Japan, for instance six Monets from private collections which were being broken up. The exhibit includes the highly acclaimed “Crépuscule à Venise” (Dusk in Venice, 1908), as well as one of Monet’s water lily works, “Nymphéas, temps gris” (1907).  The light in both demonstrated where Impressionism got its name.
Beach near Trouville, Boudin, oil, 1865
     One of Monet’s chief inspirations was Eugène Boudin, a key precursor of Impressionism. As my guest and I had just been in Boudin’s native Honfleur and visited the Boudin Museum, it was nice to see a Boudin among the works on display here. Again, it was a well-known masterpiece, a “Beach Scene Near Trouville” (1865), where city people on vacation laze around in a very dignified, city manner, seated on chairs on the sand, in their full bourgeois regalia.
Saint-Mammès, Sisley, oil, 1884
   Impressionism is all about light, and that light is visible in Alfred Sisley’s “Saint-Mammès and the Hills of La Celle”.  It must be a perfect representation of the light on that June morning of 1884 when Sisley painted it.  (My photo doesn’t begin to do its luminosity justice.)
     Having lived in Montmartre half my life, and now literally just around the corner from the only two remaining windmills, how could I not like van Gogh’s “Windmills and Gardens in Montmartre” (1886)?  He lived here briefly, when there were many more windmills than now, and before the Butte (the hill) was tamed by builders. Its rocky soil can still be seen here, and I think that’s a gardener trying to eke some subsistence out of his veggie garden.
Windmills & Gardens, van Gogh, oil, 1886
     A piece that really caught my eye was an almost-black-and-white oil on canvas by bad boy Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  “Backstage at the Circus, 1887” (my translation).  It shows three people in the wings:  a clown, a female acrobat and a bearded man who could be Toulouse-Lautrec if he hadn’t had that childhood accident and had grown to a normal height.  The acrobat may be in a bareback riding act that is about to go on and the clown is trying to calm the Arabian horse who seems skittish.  There is very little color here, just a hint of sepia, probably to contrast with the bright lights that will shine down on the act once it rides out from behind the curtain.  So much is said with so little. And that is what great art is about.

So if you’re going through Paris, and even if the exhibit’s title doesn’t “grab” you, drop in on the Orangerie - basement level - and take in over 60 paintings - mostly oils - and a few statues, including Zadkine’s “Torso” (1951) and “Pénélope” (1909), a bronze by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle.
     You won’t regret it.

Pénélope, Bourdelle, bronze, 1909

Tokyo - Paris                      

Musée de l’Orangerie
Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, 1er
Métro:  Concorde

April 5 - August 21, 2017
9-6 / Closed Tuesdays

12 € & 9 € (free under 26 years of age and the first Sunday of the month)

Au Cirque, Toulouse-Lautrec, oil, 1887

Friday, March 3, 2017

Out and About: Exhibits: Bazille at Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is one of the main showplaces for Impressionism in the world.
     This ex-train station turned museum is stunning to seem inside and out.  It also has a nice restaurant tucked away just over the entrance a few floors up, complete with Belle Epoque mirrors and bronze decoration.  And now two - count ‘em, two! - gift shops so you can’t leave without dropping some change.  (But then again, you couldn’t exchange euro coins anyway, so why not spend them?)
     Right now there’s an exhibit of the works of Bazille at the far end of the top floor.  (Take the escalators aesthetically hidden behind the wall at the end opposite the entrance.)

Frédéric Bazille, one of the lesser-known Impressionists, was born in Montpellier (southwest France) in 1841.  His wealthy Protestant family had intended him to become a doctor and sent him to Paris to continue his medical studies.  Mistake!  There he met Renoir and Sisley, and it was all downhill from there.  At least from a social status standpoint.
     Bazille started taking classes in Charles Gleyre’s studio, as had Renoir, Sisley and also Whistler.  In 1864 he failed his medical exam, whether on purpose or from missing too many classes we’ll never know.  So it was the artist’s life for him, much to his parents’ chagrin.  And to the joy of Monet, Sisley, Manet and other artists whom he helped survive financially, spreading his family’s wealth around beyond their wildest dreams.

Bazille met with some success in his artistic endeavors.  The extremely conservative Salon de Paris accepted one of his works, a classic nature morte entitled Fish.  His friend and colleague Fantin de la Tour painted him standing in profile on the right of his famous Un Atelier aux Batignolles
     And then the Franco-Prussian war broke out, stoking Bazille’s patriotism.  A mere month later, in August of 1870, he joined a Zouave regiment.  By late November, he and his unit were on the front lines.  When his commanding officer was injured, Bazille took command and led an assault on the German position. Wounded twice, he died on the battlefield at the ripe old age of 28.  His body was taken back to Montpellier for burial by a bereaved father, whom, I’m sure, wished his son would have stayed in med school.
     Thus ended the brief career - and life - of Frédéric Bazille.

Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes - 1867

The young artist’s talent might have gone unnoticed.  Four years after his death, the first exhibition of Impressionism - held at photographer Nadar’s studio - included not even one of his paintings.  And then in 1900, for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, two of his works were selected by art critic and historian Roger Marx.  That leaves 58 other works to choose from, many of them now hanging in the Musée Fabre in his native Montpellier.
Poêle dans l'Atelier - Cézanne
     The Orsay show covers the range of Bazille’s works as he progressed from the classicism that won him that spot at the Salon toward an ever-more personal expressionism.  It’s organized by both theme and chronology, mixing Bazille’s paintings with those of his contemporaries:   Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Fantin-Latour, Guigou, Scholderer and Cézanne.  That gives you a better idea of how he fit in - or didn’t - with the trends of his time in portraits, nature morte, nus, and landscapes.
     It was nice learning something new about Impressionism, long a favorite of mine.  I recommend the show.  And even if you’re not won over by this young artist, there are plenty of works by other more sainted Impressionists to make the trip worth your while.

BAZILLE:  The Youth of Impressionism

Musée d’Orsay
1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur; Paris 7è
Métro:  Assemblée Nationale, Solférino

November 15, 2016 - March 5, 2017

Open 9.30 am - 6 pm (to 9:45 pm Thursdays)
Closed Mondays

12 € & 9 €

For a video (in French) which shows many of the paintings on exhibit:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Women's March, Paris version

During the Vietnam War, I was in college.  There were lots of demonstrations there at University of Michigan - remember SDS* and Tom Hayden? - but my parents were footing the bill, so I didn’t really feel I could join in.  Blame my upbringing.
     And I never burned my bra with the Women’s Libbers, although I lived my life on my own terms, post-BA degree (and maybe even a bit pre- as well).
     As a matter of fact, I think the only time I went to a real demonstration was in Paris in the 1970s or 80s on the Champs-Elysées, in support of a Russian writer whom the Soviet Union was persecuting.  But it was more of a simple protest.  Small but heavily guarded.
     Nothing like today in Paris for the Women’s March.  No, today was a full-fledged demonstration.  It was not small.  And it was not heavily guarded.  We had a low-profile police escort opening the way and closing it, more for traffic than for crowd control.  No casseurs, no breaking or looting.  No violence of any sort.

The route - about two miles in all - started from the Place du Trocadéro, wound around the perimeter of the park, headed down to the Seine, across to the Eiffel Tower, then around that park to the far side and ending in front of the Ecole Militaire.  (Maybe parks are off-limits whereas the streets belong to everyone, something that was chanted during the march.) To get to the “starting line”, I took the bus.  As I got on, I asked the driver if he could go the whole way to Trocadéro, and he replied that, yes, it wasn’t closed off... yet.
     When I got there, the crowd was already sizeable.  Some men but mostly women.  Quite a few women in hijabs, Muslims marching against hatred toward Islam.  There were all races - white, black, red, yellow and those in between who are “all of the above”.  All ages, from grey-hairs to teenagers, and some parents with small children riding on their shoulders.
     To take a photo of the crowd, I tried to climb up higher, but the wall wasn’t built for that.  A young man - French, probably in his late 20s.- was already up there.  He held his hand down to help the old lady make it to the top.  That kind of solidarity - across nationalities, races, religions and ages - turned out to be the the main theme of the day.

After clambering down again, I walked around, talking to people I'd never met before.  Everyone was still in the “milling” stage, wondering when the march would start.  I talked to two older women, long-time friends, one an American, the other French, both living in Paris.  Both just kept saying they never thought the country - America - would have to fight these same fights again.  And hoped it wouldn’t happen in France in the Spring presidential election.  It’s another theme that kept coming up, no matter who I talked to.
     There was a middle-aged couple behind me as I made my way toward the front of the crowd.  They were chanting loudly any chant that came along.  Out of curiosity at their accent, I asked them where they were from.  “South Africa,” they replied.  They said they knew about inequality, and I’m sure they did.  They weren’t a mixed-race couple, but there were many in the crowd.
     There were lots and lots of chants, led by individual factions, such as the pro-choice people who sometimes chanted in French Mon corps / Mon choix and sometimes in English “My body / My choice”.  The young people on the heights preferred a chant the Obamas made famous:  “They go low / We go high”.  There was the requisite hey-hey chant, in this case “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go”.  And of course the insult to Donald’s small hands: “Take your hands off my rights”.  There were the Solidarnosc veterans: Sol- Sol- Solidarité / avec les femmes du monde entier (Solidarity with women everywhere), and the veterans put their whole hearts into that one.  I preferred one with a similar message, but more catchy in a multi-ethnic way: “No hate / No fear / Everybody’s welcome here”.  But the one heard most frequently - and the loudest - was definitely “NOT MY PRESIDENT!”
     There were also signs.  Lots and lots and lots of signs.  Here is a non-exhaustive list:

Ethics matter
Listen to science
Dump Trump
Trump’s a 3 at best
Impeach the Creep
Women’s rights are human rights
Stronger than fear
If you’re not horrified, you’re not paying attention
Big ovaries trump small hands
I will not be silenced
There is no Planet B
... and my personal favorite:

It was the signs that offered me my personal take-away memory of the march.  About a third of the way along the route, before we reached the Seine and the Eiffel Tower beyond, I spotted a women trying to hold up a sign made out of cardboard that just wouldn’t stand up straight.  It kept bending in half, hiding the message, and she was trying to hold up both ends and keep an eye on three middle-school-ish girls, one of whom reminded me of my daughter at that age.  Same hair; so probably same heritage.  I told the woman I’d hold the other end of the sign if she wanted. And we spent the rest of the march together.
     As we went along, she said, almost to herself, that her employer wouldn’t be happy if he knew she were here.  When I asked her who she worked for, she literally whispered “The Embassy” (American, of course).  So in case Big Brother truly is watching, we won’t call her by her real name.  Let’s call her Jacqueline.
     I ended up walking right behind the girls, who became even more enthusiastic as the march continued.  “It’s their first demonstration,” Jacqueline explained.  Some how I think there may be many more in the future.
     In the absence of the brass ensemble + drums lost somewhere in the middle of the crowd stretching back over blocks and blocks, far enough to be out of earshot, someone in the very front row, someone with the sound system, started an a capella version of We Shall Overcome as we reached the Seine River, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.  It not only took me back to the Civil Rights Era, but brought tears to my eyes to hear all these people from different countries singing together and knowing the words: we’ll walk hand in hand, we shall live in peace, we are not afraid.  Even the young girls caught on, more or less. Behind me stood a tall man with grey hair and a beard, singing in a powerful voice.  He knew the song well... and turned out to be French.  It was that kind of day.
   The chanting continued all along the avenues, right up to the square at the far end of the Eiffel Tower, from where you could see our starting point in the distance.  I gave Jacqueline my e-mail address and asked her to send me some photos.  And as the crowd started to break up, headed for the Métro and our respective ordinary lives - maybe not so ordinary after all - I asked one of the CRS - riot police once known for having la matraque facile (being heavy-handed with the billy-club) but today just peaceful escorts - how many people he thought had attended.  He told me 3,000 to 4,000 “but we were only at the end”.  I told him there were about as many in the front half.  Final figures came in around 7,000.  Not bad for a place known for la belle vie, the good life, all wine, champagne and Cordon Bleu.
     Until you touch Les Droits de l’homme et du Citoyen (The Rights of Man and Citizens) as covered in a universal declaration written in 1789 by the new government after the French Revolution.
     Then it’s a whole other ballgame.

* “SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Alan Haber was elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention in 1962, based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden.” - Wikipedia.  (And Haber’s still at it; I know his French wife well.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday morning

Easy like Sunday morning.
     A lyric from a song that doesn’t apply here.  Except that it is Sunday morning, and it’s an easy one because there’s no To-Do List.
     Except food shopping.  Because it’s France and tomorrow’s Monday and that means shops are closed to offer shopkeepers a delayed week-end.

My plan, such as it was, was to head out early, to beat the lines.  But when I wake up and open the shutters, it’s seriously raining.
     So I switch plans, such as it is, and make myself a leisurely cup of tea and read a bit... but not in the garden.  Around 10, the rain stops although the sky is still resolutely clouded over.  I put on a jacket, grab my shopping bag, my camera and my coin purse and I’m off downhill to the Purveyors of Good Things to Eat and Drink.
     I decide to take the High Road, the opposite direction from the square, and come out the far end of my street onto the usual tourists taking pictures of Le Radet, one of Montmartre’s two remaining windmills.  With a “pardon” and an “excuse me” and an “entschuldigen”, I weave my way through the throngs.  It’s just this one spot with its knot of sightseers that’s a problem.  Past that is the green-and white remake of the Moulin de la Galette painted by Renoir which no one seems to want to photograph... and then the Galette windmill itself, the second one remaining.
     This one, Le Blute-fin (they all had names), was refurbished recently by French film director Claude Lelouch, in exchange for permission to build an apartment underneath its base.  His semi-circular bay windows are rarely even visible from the street, but from his windows he has a helluva view out over Paris, including the gilt of the Invalides dome in the distance, with today’s backdrop of clouds.  My zoom makes it look within arm’s reach, but it’s actually half of Paris away, 5 kilometers (3 miles) to be exact.

My needs are few:  boudin from the Auvergne lady, chicken from Jacky Gaudin’s butcher shop, a bottle of Chinon from Manu’s Caves des Abbesses and a red bell pepper from Au Verger des Abbesses.  In fact I don’t even need to make a list.
     First is the Auvergne shop.  I’ve been meaning to buy some of her blood sausage since last week-end, but then Life Happened, as John Lennon would say.  I end up buying not only the boudin, but also a slice of pâté aux morilles (those are morels, which I love), a tiny one-portion raw goat’s milk cheese from Rocamadour, and a box of those luscious, thin, crisp butter cookies from Salers that are called pavés (paving stones).  So now I have a full four-course meal.
    Next it’s back up the Rue Lepic to the butcher on Rue des Abbesses.  Somehow I resist all the other things that he offers for sale and stick to my original two chicken legs.  Jacky asks me if I want them cut in half (thigh + drumstick), which is very professional and considerate of him.  I hadn’t thought of that, but I agree and thank him.  When I go to pay, the woman behind the counter asks me if I’m the chicken thighs.  I smile and say, “Yes, I danced ballet when I was young.”  She looks perplexed for a moment and then breaks out in a huge smile, realizing the other possible interpretation of her question.
    As I leave the butcher shop, I hear a drum roll.  It’s a sound I’ve known for ages:  the P’tits Poulbots de Montmartre.
     (An aside here: In the early 1900's, Montmartre was a slum, with poor health conditions, lots of orphans, and many artists.  One of the artists started sketching the orphans.  His name was Francisque Poulbot and he became rich and famous for those sketches of les enfants de la rue, the children of the streets.  In return, he opened a dispensary for them right down on Rue Lepic.  The drum corps came later, as a free activity for kids too poor to afford extra-curricular activities or go on holiday.  And it’s still going strong.)
     I get out my camera - this is why I always have it handy. Suddenly runners start streaming by.  It turns out to be a 10-km race through Montmartre’s streets to help fund the P’tits Poulbots, which is why their drum corps is present.  There are at least 100 runners taking part, and the Poulbot drum corps strikes up a welcome for them as they pass on every lap.  A race in Montmartre is a real challenge, because level surfaces are few and far between.  The Rue des Abbesses is one, and the joggers  revel in it after that last grueling stretch up the steep Rue Lepic.  I’m used to the hills, but that’s at walking speed, and with numerous stops in various shops.  This is way more serious.  Except for the clown who amuses both the runners and the children looking on, a break from the boredom of Sunday shopping with mom or dad.
     A quick stop into the wine shop for a bottle of chinon, and then across the street to the green grocer, dodging the jogging stragglers (or straggling joggers).  There, my “one bell pepper” resolution goes to pieces and I end up with two (one red and one orange for a Basque chicken dish tomorrow), plus some neatly manicured green beans and a serving or two of those delectably sweet, tiny early potatoes from the island of Noirmoutier.  I get handed a free bouquet of parsley as well, complete with a big smile.  When I ask Fathi why he’s not out there running in the race, he replies that he only runs after women.
     Back up the equally steep Rue Ravignan with a stop into the bakery for half a baguette to go with my goat cheese, and a bit left over for breakfast tomorrow... then I’m home, through my gate and across my garden.  Without any rain, but probably only because I took my umbrella with me.
     It’s time to start lunch.  First boil the potatoes.  That gives me time to do last night(s dishes.  With time left over to peel and cut up some Canada apples to make applesauce for the boudin aux deux pommes - the two apples (deux pommes) in question being apples from the trees and apples from the earth.  They cook down easily and I add the boudin to the pan.  It browns itself while I cut up the cooked potatoes, add milk and butter and smoosh them into mashed potatoes.  It’s all perfectly timed. Now to eat it.
     And then a nap.  The museum will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Recipe of the Month: Petits-gris de Charente en surprise

December.  Another whole year gone by!  It never failed to catch me unprepared.  Just barely recovered from Thanksgiving - complete with taking the door off the hinges to seat all the guests in my Paris apartment - and it was already time to think of special dishes for the end-of-year festivities!
     Typically, Christmas dinner in France is a family affair; friends are invited for la Saint-Sylvestre - New Year’s Eve.  Christmas dinner used to be enjoyed after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but it’s now often slipped over into Christmas Day.  The typical menu is roast turkey - or goose - with chestnut stuffing, followed by a bûche de Noël.
     For those of you who aren’t really fond of the traditional foie-gras or oyster appetizers, this recipe is simple yet special.  The only hard part is scooping out the inside of a cooked potato.  It’s typically French in its ingredients, which I’ve left as Chef Jacques Cagna dictated for those of you actually cooking in France.  The shrimp he uses are petit-gris, a variety that I haven’t seen in America, but which can be replaced by tiny cocktail shrimp, or even larger shrimp cut into small pieces.
     Another of the ingredients is anisette, which is easy to find in most French homes, especially in Provence.  This adds another layer to the dish, a special je ne sais quoi, and makes it more festive.  If it’s hard to find or expensive, you can always use sambucca or ouzo.  Or even some anise extract, which you can find in almost any grocery store.
     Cagna also uses grenaille potatoes, which are small and smooth skinned.  I’ve replaced them here by red potatoes because of their cheerful red color but more especially because they hold up under cooking and will cause less problems when you try to hollow them out.
     So, before Santa and his reindeer land on your roof... to your stoves!  And Joyeux Noël!

(P.S.  Sorry I didn't put up a recipe for November.  It's been a busy few months.)

  • 8 grenaille or 4 medium-sized red potatoes 
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 hazelnuts/walnuts, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 small tsp anisette or anise extract
  • 24 petits-gris or tiny cocktail shrimp
  • salt, freshly ground pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water.
When they’re cooked, cut a thin slice lengthwise off the bottom so the potato lays flat.  Then slice off the top.
Carefully remove most of the inside.  (As a precaution, cook a few extra, just in case.)
Keep the cooked potato for other uses, for example a potato frittata or to add to a spinach and bacon salad.

While the potatoes are cooking, mix the butter, parsley, shallot and garlic in a food processor.
By hand, blend in the nuts (optional), then the anisette.
Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Into each potato shell, put three petit-gris shrimp (or several shrimp or shrimp pieces).
Top with a dollop of the butter mix.  For a pretty finish, use a pastry bag.

Bake in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes.

Serve with a chilled dry white wine, such as a pouilly-fumé.  Serves 4.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Out & About - Exhibits - Picasso / Giacometti

Left, Picasso's Pregnant Woman (1959); right, Giacometti's Tall Woman (1958)

Bruno (Picasso, 1920)
Picasso?  Most of it, not so much.  But Giacometti?  Yes, please.
     So when I heard the Picasso Museum in Paris was having a show with Giacometti in it, I decided to go back there. Besides, they’ve remodeled since the ouster of the old curator... or so I’m told.

Ottilia (Giacometti, 1925)
Evidently Picasso and Giacometti had a long friendship, both before and after World War II.  (During the war, Giacometti returned to his native Switzerland whereas Picasso stayed in Paris, even though his art was banned by the Nazis and he himself was often hounded by the Gestapo.) Although twenty years older, and already a known celebrity compared to Giacometti’s beginner status, Picasso recognized the young Swiss artist’s talent and they became fast friends, not only on an artistic level but on a human one as well.
     The artwork - over 200 pieces in all* - starts with early paintings and sculptures by both.  The first room includes Picasso’s “The Barefoot Girl” along with Giacometti’s “Still Life with Apples”, both painted when the artists were just 14 years old.  Their talent was already obvious.
Braque on his deathbed (Giacometti, 1963) 
     Some of the other rooms are organized by theme.  One shows both artists’ fascination with death. Another demonstrates the influence non-Western cultures, especially indigenous art, had on both of them.  As one panel explains, “Picasso’s totems and Giacometti’s steles display the same stylised forms and evoke the same magical quality as works from the Cyclades, Oriental antiquities and sculptures from Africa and Oceania.”
Goat, Picasso 1950
The dog, Giacometti 1951
     A third room, mostly sculptures, is devoted to representations of animals.  There’s a comic goat that Giacometti sculpted in 1950, as well as his representation of his friend Pablo’s elegant afghan hound, which looks fluidly emaciated, its fur rendered recognizably by the artist’s incision-like style.
     The final section focuses on their Muses:  Annette for Giacometti and mainly Dora Maar for Picasso.

     Throughout the exhibit, there were people sketching, including an entire art class.

In addition to the artworks, two films are also on the menu.  On the upstairs level, which you reach by a majestic fer forgé and stone staircase, a small room - divided in half by a white wall - projects two films back-to-back.  
     Facing the window is the 1955 documentary “Le Mystère Picasso” by Henri-George Clouzot in which Picasso sketches himself.  It’s fascinating to watch an invisible hand draw one single line that twists and turns until a whole scene emerges, a scene an invisible brush then fills in with shades of black. The mastery of seemingly seeing what is hidden within the blank canvas is amazing.  Picasso’s hand never hesitates.
     On the other side of the partition you can see another documentary, “Alberto Giacometti” by Ernst Scheidegger... or rather a series of short snippets that Scheidegger filmed of his friend between 1961 and 1965. One has him sculpting a face that becomes more and more furrowed with every incision; another shows him sketching Stravinsky.

Woman sitting (Giacometti, 1958)
You’ll have no trouble understanding the exhibit.  As usual in Parisian art shows, where the public is international, the explanatory panels are multilingual:  French, English and Spanish.  And an audioguide is available in several languages.

The museum itself is worth the trip.  It’s housed in the Hôtel Salé, one of the hôtels particuliers  - or private mansions - built in the 17th century in what had been a swamp (thus the name, the Marais).
     The whole neighborhood is filled with such mansions.  Over the centuries, these majestic houses owned by nobles were broken up into apartments, first by floor and then even more, until they were often just an amalgam of rented rooms.  The area slipped down the social ladder, eventually becoming the Jewish ghetto.  And then came World War II.  The Jews were sent off to camps, most never to return, and the apartments were bought up by good French stock (and yes, that’s irony, because often they were awarded to the people who denounced those Jews).
Bust of Annette (Giacometti, 1964)
     When I moved to France in 1968, I attended part of the Sorbonne housed in more modern facilities amidst all the leprous old buildings in this neighborhood.  By the late Seventies, forward-looking people were buying up the small rabbit-hutch studios and sewing them together to make larger apartments for their growing families. Breaking down the partitions, they discovered the original stone walls beneath, and under the fake ceilings huge chestnut beams, some of them still with the stigmata of their old painted decoration.
     Other apartments became the property of the City of Paris, often to pay off back taxes. The Hôtel Salé was confiscated in 1962 by the City, the owner and tenants expropriated, to create a Museum of Fashion (which you can now find at the Palais Galliera across town).
     Then in 1974, as per the artist’s wishes, Picasso’s heirs donated all these works of his - over 5,000 of them - and the Musée Picasso was born.

* The Giacometti works are on loan from the Fondation Giacometti.

Musée Picasso

4 rue de Thorigny; Paris 3è

Metro:  Filles du Calvaire or Saint-Paul

Open 10:30- 6.  Closed Mondays.

To Feb. 15, 2016

12.50€ & 11€

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fifty Years of the Gamma Photo Agency

I really like photography.  Good photography.  And few agencies had better photos on a more regular basis than Gamma.
     But now it’s gone.

Abu Dhabi - Jack Burlot - 1973
Gamma was a French photo agency.  It was founded in 1966 by famous photographer Raymond Depardon, who’s perhaps even more famous for his later films.  Depardon had partners:  Hubert Henrotte (who later went on to start his own agency, Sygma.), Hugues Vassal (famous for his photos of Piaf and the Shah of Iran), and Léonard de Raemy (photographer to the stars).  They were joined shortly thereafter by Gilles Caron, illustrious for his coverage of the Six-Day War, the Biafran War, and France’s very own student/worker riots in May-June 1968.  (Caron disappeared in the Khmer-held territory of Cambodia in 1970; he was only 30 years old.)
Vietnam - Jean-Claude Labbé - 1976
     Others whose names you may or may not have heard are Françoise Demulder, Chas Gerretsen, William Karel, Catherine Leroy, François Lochon, Georges Merillon and Emanuele Scorcelletti. The agency soon grew its own crop of famous names:  Abbas, Jean Gaumy, Sebastião Salgado, David Burnett and Gianni Giansanti.  Eventually it represented more than 6,000 photographers in all.
     The agency’s initial aims were to improve the working conditions of photojournalists and implement equitable treatment of all its photographers.  Photo by photo, Gamma became the agency, whether for images of the glitterati or the warfront.

Kabul - Eric Bouvet - 2001

But as with all human undertakings, where egos are involved, conflict and jealousy soon erupted.  In May of 1973, a strike broke out and ultimately most of the photographers followed Henrotte to Sygma.  In 1980, Depardon made a film, “Reporters”, in which he followed several of Gamma’s photographers as they went about chasing images.  And then he left for the rival agency, Magnum.
     As the 20th century drew to a close, Gamma was losing money, perhaps because of its refusal to “go digital”.  In 1999, it was bought up by a division of Hachette Filipacchi Médias and kept functioning.  When rumors circulated that the agency was in financial trouble in March of 2007, the agency changed owners and names several times.  It finally filed for Chapter 11 protection in mid-2009, after a loss of three million euros.
     In April of 2010, it was sold for a mere 100,000 euros to the Eyedea Group, headed by... François Lochon, one of Gamma’s early photographers.  The Group included the Rapho Agency, a legend in the realm of images. Continuing as Gamma-Rapho, it also handled the works of photographers Édouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Jean-Louis Swiners, and Sabine Weiss, as well as inheriting the archives of  the Keystone, Explorer, Hoa Qui and Stills agencies.

Corrida, Nîmes - Erik Sampers - 1991

So Gamma, per se, is gone, but its stock of over 500,000 photos still exists. Hard to track down, and all too-brief (Oct. 6-23 only), this exhibit included fifty of them selected from the entire range of its spheres of interest: “beautiful people”, everyday life, wars, humanitarian crises... anything that was news and caught the eye.  (A list of the photographers is given below.)
     All fifty are perfectly framed works of art that tell a story. All fifty were sold on the final Sunday, with the proceeds to benefit Reporters Without Borders (

A 336-page book weighing in at a hearty 2.6 kg (5.7 pounds!) is also available at a mere 59€.  (I hear it’s available via Amazon, although I prefer spending my money in brick-and-mortar stores.)

The exhibit’s photographers:  Jean-Louis Atlan, Patrick Aventurier, Hélène Bamberger, Jean-Pierre Bonnotte, Giancarlo Botti, Eric Bouvet, Henri Bureau, Jack Burlot, David Burnett, Gilles Caron, Patrick Chapuis, Georges De Keerle, Françoise Demulder, Raymond Depardon, Marc Deville, Alexis Duclos, Michel Folco, Jean-Claude Francolon, Raphaël Gaillarde, Yves Gellie, Gianni Giansanti, Chip Hires, Barry Iverson, David Kennerly, Peter Knapp, Kaku Kurita, Jean-Claude Labbé, Jean-Pierre Laffont, Bertrand Laforêt, Jean-Jacques Lapeyronnie, Michel Laurent, François Lochon, Michel Maïofiss, Pascal Maitre, Yves Manciet, Olivier Martel, Georges Mérillon, Pierre Perrin, Jean-Pierre Rey, Sebastiao Salgado, Erik Sampers, Eric Sander, Christian Simonpietri, Laurent Sola, Gilbert Uzan, Laurent Van Der Stockt, Diana Walker, and the unknown photographer of “Trooping the Colour”.

Trooping the Colour - unknown - 1970