Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Out & About: Exhibits: Collections privées

Pissarro - Déchargement de bois, Quai de la Bourse

Paris has 130 museums.  In addition to the permanent collection of each, most also have temporary shows that change two or three times a year. 
     So when I’m here, I have a long list of shows I want to see.  This time I have eight or nine to fit into four weeks.  I’ve already done the Ateliers Mythiques at the Musée de Montmartre and Mucha at the Musée du Luxembourg.  Today it’s the turn of the Collections Privées at the Marmottan.  And with an old friend.

Caillebotte - Pont de l'Europe

The Marmottan-Monet Museum is a perfect place for an intimate show.  Originally, it was the large home, quaintly called the “hunting lodge”, of the Duke of Valmy.  (I’m presuming he hunted in the Bois de Boulogne a mere block away.)  The lodge was later purchased by Monsieur Marmottan, whose son then gave it and his art collection to the Paris Academy of Beaux-Arts.  For many years that was the museum’s name, and it housed a lot of Impressionist art, including Monet.  Which is why decades later Claude Monet’s son Michel chose to bequeath his own collection of his father’s works to the museum... and a third M was added to the name.
     The permanent collections rule on the basement and upstairs levels.  The ground floor houses the temporary shows, as well as rooms that have some of the original furniture, period pieces to delight those interested.
     Me, I’ve come for the Collections Privées, Impressionist art owned by private individuals, artworks rarely - if ever - seen outside of these individuals’ four walls. 
     Sometimes the owner of the painting was indicated, but usually not.  People don’t always want burglars to know what’s hanging in their homes.  The word “Monaco” arose often, but who knows whether it’s Prince Albert, one of his sisters, or any of the über-rich people who have paid for a residence in that tax-free principality on the Mediterranean.  Two names came up often.  One is American, the son of a grocer who hit it rich in money management:  Scott Black.  (His wife Isabelle was gallantly also named as co-owner.)  The other, Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, is a Spaniard who has lived most of his life in Mexico, made his money in telecommunications, and loves to loan his artworks out, which he’s done here.  French magazine Paris Match says his art collection is the largest in private hands in the world.

Monet - Tuileries, 1876

But on to the works themselves.
     The name Impressionism came from a painting by Monet shown in the first show ever by artists of this genre (in 1874).  Monet called it Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise).  A scoffing art critic picked up on that and said that none of the paintings in the show were real art, but only just impressions. The term stuck.  (That painting is downstairs here at the Marmottan.)
     Impressionism is all about light.  How it refracts.  How it reflects off things.  How it can transform a color.  One of the best demonstrations of this is when the artist represents dappled light, scenes with light and shadow.  One canvas by Caillebotte demonstrated this:  Le Jardin du Petit Gennevilliers.  Obviously not the center feature of the painting, three women sit off in a corner, talking in the sun.  The focus, so to speak, is on the shadows cast by the tall trees and on the walk and flowerbed, and how the fruit tree stands out against the darkness in the background.  The shadow takes up a good third of the canvas, the third that’s front and center.  The year being 1889, the work is still somewhat traditional, as paintings were, pre-photography.  It’s a scene you now might snap with your smartphone, except broken down by... light.
Toulouse-Lautrec - La Blanchisseuse
     Toulouse-Lautrec has a painting in this show that is also photographic, but it’s a portrait rather than a landscape.  He called it La Blanchisseuse (The Laundress).  It’s from the same period as Monet’s garden (1886) and shares some traits.  Here the focus seems to be on the woman’s white shirt, and the shadows its folds cast.  A far cry from Lautrec’s famous posters.  Her dreary room is made even more dreary by the contrast with the scrap of sky out her window.  Lautrec has hidden the woman’s face with a lock of hair that’s fallen over her eyes as she takes a moment out of her drudgery, and there’s the merest shadow of that lock on her cheek.  Again, light.
     Another thing that fascinated the Impressionists, something still fairly new in the world of that time, was the steam engine.  The constant morphing of the rising steam was as challenging to try to capture on canvas as was light.  Which is why so many artists set up their easels near Paris’s Gare St. Lazare train station and on the Pont de l’Europe bridge spanning the tracks.  Pissarro captured it well in another setting:  the docks, where boats wait to be loaded or unloaded.  The river gave him the additional opportunity to interpret light on the water, as well as in the sky.  As it was painted in 1898, Impressionism had already moved on a bit from a softer version of photographic depiction to something more personal, a step or two farther from reality.
Théo van Rysselberghe - Regatta
     Still later came pointillism, where light was broken down even further into dots.  Although Seurat took it to the extreme, others used it more sparingly.  There’s a canvas in this show that exemplifies that well, and it’s by an artist I hadn’t heard of:  Théo van Rysselberghe.  He called it Regatta, and the full sails of the boats embody the wind that also makes the waters choppy.  He uses that same texturing with the rocky cliffs, but in a much more subtle way.  (When I looked up van Rysselberghe, I found out he was from Belgium, and he called his style neo-Impressionism.)
Vlaminck, by Derain
     Fauvism is a school that arose from Impressionism.  That name was given by yet another art critic who focused in on the unnatural colors used by some artists and likened them to fauves (wild beasts).   André Derain painted a portrait of fellow artist Maurice de Vlaminck and the colors he chose fall within this definition, especially as one eye is blue and the other is black.  As far as impressions go, this portrait gives no more than an impression of what Vlaminck actually looked like.  Based on photos of him, it’s about as unreliable a police sketch as it could possibly be.  A mere outline of a face, with a line for a nose and only a patch of hair.  And yet, as a piece of art, it’s works.
     There were also a few pieces of sculpture in the show.  One was a chillingly striking head of St. John the Baptist by Rodin.  I saw one such head once in a church in Madaba, Jordan.  What’s striking here, in addition to Rodin’s mastery of the chisel, is the coldness of the white marble.  You’re sure he’s well and truly dead.  In contrast to that, there’s a child’s head by Rodin’s student - and paramour - Camille Claudel.  It’s displayed with a mirror behind it so you can stare into the child’s eyes yet see the loosely braided hair flowing down her back.  Head slightly tilted up, she seems to be waiting for something, expecting something.  The artist leaves it to us to imagine what.

There were many more artworks in this show.  But these were the ones that called out to me the most.
     And most of them will never be seen publicly again.  Unless it’s at Sotheby’s or Christie's.

Claude Monet, by Philippe Garel
Collections privées:
A voyage from Impressionist to Fauve

Musée Marmottan Monet
2 rue Louis-Boilly; 16è
Métro:  La Muette

Until February 10, 2019
T-Sun 10-6 / Th 10-9
Closed Mondays

11 & 7.50 €

Monday, November 5, 2018

Out & About: Exhibits - Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha

When I was in Prague last fall, I went to the Mucha Museum.  So going to this Mucha exhibit at the Musée du Luxembourg was kind of like visiting an old friend.
     For starters, as of the first room, there was the same photo, taken by Mucha of his good buddy Gauguin, newly arrived back from Polynesia, playing Mucha’s piano dressed in only a mercifully long shirt, his bare feet and legs working the pedals.
     The information gleaned in Prague on the life and works of Alphonse Mucha (gutturally pronounced “moo-ha”) also helped make sense of this Paris exhibit.  For instance, the museum’s second room is set aside for his posters of Sarah Bernhardt, the ultimate theatrical star of the turn of the century.  She liked his first poster of her so much that she proclaimed, in true star fashion, “I love that.  You’re mine from now on.” 
Maude Adams
     Of course, Toulouse-Lautrec had already made posters a new art form, up in Montmartre with La Goulue and Jane Avril.  But Mucha took it even further - and lived longer.  His success was helped along by works for the renowned jeweler Fouquet, and later by an exclusive contract with Parisian printer Champenois.  With that, he could move from his cold Grande Chaumière artist studio in Montparnasse to a quite posh apartment in the toney Val de Grâce neighborhood, a setting suitable to invite all his rich new friends.
     After years of success, Mucha moved back to the now-independent Czechoslovakia, after several trips to the States to find a patron for his masterpiece, The Slav Epic.  (Wealthy Chicago businessman Charles Richard Crane filled the bill.)  For many years Mucha worked fervently on that project to the glory of his Slavic ancestors, culminating in twenty intricate canvases recounting scenes from Czech history as well as that of other Slav nations.
     But in the end, Czechoslovakia savored only twenty years of independence, and when the Nazis marched into Prague in 1939, Mucha was one of the first people rounded up by the Gestapo.  Too famous... and also a Freemason.  He caught pneumonia in prison, whereupon the Nazis freed him, not wanting him to die in their custody.  But die he did anyway only days later, shortly after his 79th birthday.
     Mucha is more than just one of the artists in the dccorative arts movement of the turn of the century.   He came along at the birth of Art Nouveau, with its sinuous forms, floral motifs, ornamental lines and lovely young ladies, all rendered in a subtle palette of pastel colors.  Mucha is the embodiment of the genre.  Alphonse Mucha IS Art Nouveau.

The Slav Epic - Freeing the Serfs

Alphonse Mucha

Musée du Luxembourg
19 rue de Vaugirard; 6è
Métro: St. Sulpice

Until January 27, 2019
Daily 10:30-7 (to 10 pm on Friday)

13 & 9 € (free under 16 years of age)


Friday, June 22, 2018

Out & About - Exhibits: Mary Cassatt Exhibit

I’ve talked about the Jacquemart-André museum before, so I’ll be brief here.  Suffice to say it was once a private home - or rather mansion - built by Edouard André for his wife Nélie Jacquemart, who was also a painter and did his portrait ten years before their marriage.  (I guess he must have liked it!)
     At their death, the house was bequeathed to the Institut de France with the proviso that it become a museum.  It still has the original furniture and decoration, including a fresco by Tiepolo on the grand staircase and another on the ceiling of the adjoining room.  The couple’s art collection, especially of Italian masters, is considerable and a tour of the house is well worth your time while you’re there.
     But given Nélie’s artistic bent, it’s only fitting that part of the mansion should be reserved for temporary art exhibits.  The present one spotlights the talent of one of the first women artists of Impressionism, Mary Cassatt.  And an American to boot.

A short film - unfortunately only in French - at the entrance to the show discusses the birth of Impressionism and Cassatt’s place in it.  Much of it underlines her close friendship with Edgar Degas.  And there’s something fitting in that, because while the family of Cassatt’s father were French Huguenots who immigrated to America in 1662, Degas’s mother was from New Orleans, so they had that Franco-American link in common.
     Yet in spite of her American-ness, Cassatt chose to live most of her life in France - almost sixty years.  Over that span of time, and thanks to her friendship with Degas, she became part of the Impressionism movement.  Her art slowly transformed from the classicism that won her a place in the rigidly traditionalist Paris Salon in 1868.  But as it changed, the doors of the highly-formal Salon closed to her, as they did to others who then chose to react by creating their own movement:  Impressionism.

Alexandre Cassatt & son Robert
The first room of the exhibit includes a few works by Degas of his good friend Mary:  one at the Louvre as she admires a painting, another of her buying a hat, and one of her just sitting, a portrait she hated.  There’s also that canvas that won her a place in the 1868 Paris Salon - A Mandoline Player - which enables you to see the artistic territory she covered in her evolution as an artist.
     In one of the other rooms is a 1913 quote by Achille Ségard, author and art critic: “Instead of choosing the easy road, she felt the need to concentrate on the realities of volume, the movement of lines and of sentiments.”  Although she did several canvases of her brother Alexander, one of which is on display here in the second room, her favorite subjects were women with their children.  But not maudlin images.  No.  One of the first feminists, she chose to show the noble side of women.
     Like the other famous woman artist of the day, Berthe Morisot, she is known for her portraits.  And yet this exhibit also includes many of her aquatints (La Toilette) and dry points (Dans l’omnibus), which she printed out herself on a press she bought and learned to operate.  Room 4 concentrates on these works.  Many of them fall within the period where she, like other Impressionists such as Monet, became fascinated by Japanese prints, and a Japan-effect is clearly visible.

The most famous, perhaps, of all her works is the one chosen for the exhibit’s billboards and publicity:  Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.  It shows a young girl slouched in a blue chair, one arm behind her head, her gaze lost in little girl dreams, her dog on the chair opposite her.  You wonder what she’s dreaming of.  An interesting point about this canvas is that Degas lent a hand; the back wall that Cassatt had painted straight has been “corrected” by Degas, transformed into a corner with angles in order to better focus the eye on the girl.  It’s the only one of her works where Degas took up the brush himself instead of just making suggestions.
     One good point about this little girl, for me, is that she isn’t overly rosy of complexion.  It’s the one detail of Cassatt’s paintings that I dislike.  I dislike it in Renoir also.  Both tended to paint overly-rosy cheeks and full faces, unlike Monet or Degas or the other Impressionists.
     I also admired the print called La Toilette.  It shows a woman, modestly turned away from the viewer, her blouse off, washing up in a basin of water on her commode.  The curve of her back is admirable, the bare corner of her face teasingly visible in the mirror, and the blues are amazingly vibrant.
     The oil of mother and daughter in a boat watching the ducks (Summer) demonstrates a typically Impressionist rendition of water.  The splashes of blue, underlined with yellows and oranges and greens, perfectly translate the movement of the water and the reflections broken up by that movement.

In spite of this fascination for mothers and their children, Mary Cassatt never married and never had children of her own.  Her canvases were her children.  And she managed to actually live from her art, unlike others such as Van Gogh.  After a long life as artist, she, like Monet, developed cataracts and decided to put down her brushes.  A sad end for an artist.

This collection of some 50 pieces is the first collective exhibit in France of Mary Cassatt’s works since her death in 1926.  In addition to works that have stayed in France, there are canvases from all over:  from her native Pittsburgh, from Philadelphia where she attended art school, and from New York, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Newark and Washington, D.C., as well as Lisbon, Zurich and Bilbao. That’s the great advantage of such a retrospective show:  bringing together works you would never see side by side otherwise.
     And the exhibit gives a good perspective of how her art evolved from the pure classic style of her early years to the whittling down to a more bare minimum of lines and colors.  If you like portraits in particular, you will thoroughly enjoy this exhibit.

Note:  Although the explanatory boards are in French only, audio-guides are available in many languages.
La Toilette

Mary Cassatt: 
An American Impressionist in Paris

Musée Jacquemart-André
159 bd Haussmann; 8è
Métro: St.. Philippe du Roule

March 9 - July 23, 2018
Daily 10-6 / Mon 10-8:30

13.50 & 10.50 €

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Out and About - Exhibits - Jeanne Lanvin

April 26, 2009, the Palais Galliéra, Museum of Fashion, closed for renovation.  The City of Paris sunk 5€ million ($6.5 M at that time) into safety and upgrading the equipment, including an handicapped entrance.
     Since September 28, 2013, it’s been open again.  It took me a year and a half to get across town for an exhibit.  This one was worth it.  Jeanne Lanvin.*

Jeanne Lanvin, portrait 1925
Jeanne Lanvin was born into a poor family in 1867, the first of eleven children.  Which meant, at that time, that you had to contribute to the family finances.  At an early age.  Especially girls.  By 1880, she was already an apprentice milliner, and only 13 years old.  By 1885, she had her own millinery shop.
     And by 1908 she had expanded her fashion activities to robes, first for women, then for children and eventually the summum:  wedding dresses.  All are present in this exhibit of over 90 of her creations.
     What strikes you first in these dresses is their timeless quality.  Yes, obviously some details are dated, but overall many of these dresses could be worn today and not look out of place.
La Diva
     Lanvin was known for several things.  One was color... or the lack of... or the sublimation of.  She started out with black and white, later adding gold.  The two colors she highlighted were what became known as Lanvin blue and also absinthe green, a slight, greyish green like the “green fairy” of the fabled drink.  She was also known for topstitching, which often replaced the use of opposing colors to create a pattern.  And appliqué, lots and lots of appliqué, plus tiny little beads, all sewn on by hand, which, along with plissé (tiny pleats) probably ruined many a seamstress’s eyes.  Boleros were also a trademark of the House of Lanvin, as was the bouffant skirt.  And motifs - often geometrical, sometimes exotic in theme, with an accent on the Japanese look - were often off-set and diagonal.  You could recognize a Lanvin dress in the blink of an eye.
     At its busiest, Maison Lanvin employed almost 1,000 petites mains, little hands, meaning seamstresses, usually specializing in one thing, such as beadwork or plissé.  Lanvin put out more than 100 different models each year.  And to make sure the colors were the colors she wanted, Jeanne Lanvin had her own dyeworks in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris.  Madame, as she was called, was very “hands on”, from start to finish.  And it did well for her; Maison Lanvin is the oldest fashion house still in existence.
     Half of the dresses and coats on exhibit here are laid out flat and reflected vertically in a mirror.  Others are worn by dressmaker dummies and also reflected in mirrors so you can see both front and rear at the same time.
     Galliéra isn't a big museum.  There are basically two large rooms and another narrow room on either side.  But until the end of August, it will be filled with the discretion and elegance of Jeanne Lanvin.

* I didn't post this entry "in the day".  Other things intervened.  But as Jeanne Lanvin was one of the landmarks of French fashion, I decided to post it now, even though the show is long over.

Palais Galliéra - Fashion Museum

10 av Pierre-1er-de-Serbie; 16è
Métro:  Alma-Marceau or Iéna

Tues-Sun 10-6 / Thurs 10-9 / Closed Mondays

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Out and About: Exhibits: Hansen's Secret Garden

Monet, Waterloo Bridge
For me, arriving at the Jacquemart-André Museum on Boulevard Haussmann is like dropping by an old friend ‘s home.  Not only do I know the museum well, but it’s located in what was once the opulent home of Edouard André, heir to a rich banking family.  After building this mansion in 1876, he met and married a talented young artist, Nélie Jacquemart.  Thus the hyphenated name.  When they died, they left their mansion to the Institut de France, so that their artworks could become accessible to a broader audience.
Corot, Windmill
   Inside the museum, you’ll wind through the rooms as they were left by the family, complete with the art, furniture and other trappings that the couple collected.  “The extremely pragmatic Nélie Jacquemart had thought of every detail,” says the museum’s website, “even stipulating in her will the museum’s opening hours and conditions, as well as the exact position of certain artworks.”
     Once you’ve got a feeling for its late 19th century splendor, cross the winter garden and climb the magnificent double-helix staircase.  There you’ll find the rooms where temporary exhibits are hung.

Monet, Marine, Le Havre

Pissarro, Snow over Eragny
This one is about another rich man’s collection:  that of a certain Danish insurance czar named Wilhelm Hansen.  Like the Jacquemart-André family, the Hansen’s country residence, Ordrupgaard north of Copenhagen, was bequeathed to the Danish state, which turned it into a museum in 1953.
     In the very first room, a short video tells a bit about Wilhelm Hansen and his love of art, and especially of the Impressionists.  It explains that he originally wanted to have 12 pieces by each of the artists who caught his fancy, but later gave up on that detail.  Amusingly, the video calls Camille Pissarro “the greatest Danish painter”, because he was born on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, which was then ruled by Denmark.  (A second Denmark connection is the fact that Paul Gauguin’s wife, Mette Sophie Gad, was Danish.)
     Then it’s on to the canvases.

Daubigny, Pleine Mer

First to catch my eye is a canvas by Corot: “The Windmill”, painted sometime between 1835 and 1840.  (Note:  these are my translations of the titles in French, which may differ from the titles as they have come down to us in English).  Hansen called Corot “the last of the classics and the first of the moderns”, an opinion which most of the artists on view here would second.  Although the colors are classic, Corot already focuses on the Impressionists’ prime concern:  light, as can be seen in the clouds and in the shadows on the road and on the windmill itself.
Sisley, Inondation Bougival
     Which is a perfect preface to... Monet.  Two of his works hang almost side by side.  The first was mentioned in the video: “Waterloo Bridge: cloudy day”, one of many Monet painted from his hotel room in 1903.  For having spent many days in London, I can tell you he got the color of the muddy Thames exactly right.  It’s very different from the nearby “Marine, Le Havre” painted nearly forty years earlier.  Almost the entire canvas is taken up by the sea, with the storm clouds overhead just slightly more grey than the water... and four ships just specks on the horizon that divides one from the other.
     Very different indeed from another of the canvases in this room of landscapes:  Pissarro’s “Snow over Eragny, Evening”, painted during his happy later years in a house Monet bought for him and his family*.  When it was painted in 1894, Eragny, a simple town he has immortalized, was far from Paris, in the countryside where Pissarro could afford to raise his six children.  The treatment of the sky and snow are very different from Monet’s, but the Impressionist approach to light as a structure is very clear.

Manet, Bowl of Pears
   In the next, smaller room are just a few smaller canvases.  Of them, I prefer Manet’s “Bowl of Pears” from 1882.  Painted the year before he died at the young age of 51, it is all understatement:  the size, the color, the forms.  The video explained that Manet was very ill the last few years of his life and was restricted in how long he could even hold a brush.  What it didn’t explain was the cause:  the syphilis he’d contracted years earlier in Rio. 
Pissarro, Jardin Eragny
   The intimacy of Manet’s pears is in striking contrast with Daubigny’s “At sea, Cloudy Day” painted in 1874.  A rougher sea than Monet’s and more of a contrast between sea and sky, with only one small ship in the distance, but definitely, again, a similar treatment of light and how it shapes nature... or at least our perception of it.  Small touches of color that the eye and the brain patch together to rebuild reality in the mind of the viewer.
     Farther down the wall, a work by Degas: “Courtyard of the House” (1873), a “sketch” of a house in the hometown of his mother:  New Orleans.  I like the composition, but find the dog disturbingly large.  I far prefer Sisley’s “Flooding along the Seine, Bougival”, also from 1873.  It’s a true study in the dual principle of Impressionism:  light and reflection, both treated masterfully here.  The last of the paintings in this room that catches my eye is Pissarro’s “Corner of the Garden, Eragny” (1897).   Not only is it a lovely study in how to capture dappled light filtering through the trees, but it looks very familiar.  Which is natural, seeing as I think it was part of the Musée du Luxembourg’s exhibit dedicated to the artist’s Eragny period - Pissarro in Eragny - which ran from March to July of this year.
Morisot, Woman with Fan
     The next room concentrates on portraits, and here I find a work by my old friend Berthe Morisot, the only woman to have made a name for herself in the Old Boys’ World that was French art of the late 19th century.  Hansen obviously liked this portrait enough to buy it: “Woman with Fan, Portrait of Mme. Marie Hubbard” (1874).  It’s an obvious nod to her brother-in-law Manet’s famous Olympia, but without the implied naughtiness that so scandalized the public.  Here the reclining lady is fully dressed.  And yet there’s something similar in the look she’s giving the artist.
     Hanging right next to Morisot’s Mrs. Hubbard is a similarly white-clad brunette painted by an artist unfamiliar to me:  Eva Gonzalès.  The elongated canvas, painted around 1877, is even more soft than Morisot’s, almost blurred, the white of the dress somewhat fading into the white of the cushions.  Which was probably done on purpose, seeing as it’s titled “The Convalescent”.  When I get home, I look Gonzalès up and find she evolved in an artistic world (father a novelist, mother a musician wife a painter), lived around the corner in Avenue Frochot at one point, was a student of Manet and died at only 34 shortly after giving birth.
Gauguin, Blue Trees
     The final room is set aside for post-Impressionist art.  Which obviously entails Gauguin.  There are several works from his Tahitian years, but I’m drawn to “The Blue Trees” (1888), painted during the short Arles period when he was living and fighting with Van Gogh.  The other title of this work is more foreboding for the figure half-hidden by the trees:  “Your Turn Will Come, My Beauty”.  As with so much in Gauguin’s world, no one has any idea what that means.  The rest of the work is every bit as disturbing, aesthetically, with its red clouds, yellow sky and blue trees.  Which, I’m sure, is just the effect Gauguin was going for.

One thing that’s unfortunate in this otherwise exceptional exhibit is that all the information provided is in French only.  But there are audioguides available in several languages, so that problem can be overcome.
     And when you’re done, there’s a café right by the entrance, in what fittingly used to be the mansion’s dining room?  There you can enjoy a light lunch (salad, quiche, dish of the day) or a wide selection of pastries throughout the afternoon, as well as brunch on Sundays as of 11 am.

Degas, Courtyard of House, New Orleans

*I thought I’d posted my review of this show, but evidently not.  I’ll do it in the future, if only to show you the artwork.

Le Jardin Secret des Hansen
Gonzalès - The Convalescent

Musée Jacquemart-André
158 boulevard Haussmann; 8è
Métro:  St. Philippe du Roule

Until January 22, 2018
Daily 10-6, Mondays 10-8:30

13?50 € & 10.50 € (free under 7 years of age)


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Out & About - Exhibits - National Geographic: The Legend

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been reading National Geographic.  And even before that, even before I understood what I was reading, I would look at the photos.
      Photos of far away places with strange-sounding names (to steal some lyrics from an old song).  That may be what led to my trademark wanderlust.  (It probably also led to my photo-taking and travel-blog-writing.)
     With no siblings, I had to find ways to amuse myself that didn’t require other children.  Reading was the key one.  That somehow led me to National Geographic, although I don’t remember my parents having a subscription.
     I do remember, later, we adolescents using it for sex education, a class which didn’t yet exist at school in the Fifties.  We would go to the library and seek out National Geographic issues about Africa, where you were always sure to see bare breasts.  (To the concern of all us girls, they were always sagging to the waist; great for bra sales.)  And I won’t go into the New Guinea articles with the penis gourds!

All this to say that Paris hosted a National Geographic Photography exhibition at the city’s National History Museum.  I arrived here near the end of it, so I made time - between rainstorms - to go over there.
     It was full of the iconic photos by George Shiras and Tim Laman and Joel Sartore and Steve McCurry, among other famous photographers who used their talents at the Society’s request..
     An introductory “mobile” displayed National Geographic magazine covers down through the years, all strung up in dozens of vertical necklaces.  They went back to almost the beginning of the Society in 1888. Even from afar, you could guess how old they were by the style of the magazine’s famous yellow outline, and by the visual technology of the photo on the front cover.

The exhibit was set up in sections, to reflect the Society’s areas of interest. The first section was for wildlife, and I stood a long time in front of a night photo by Shiras of a lynx in Ontario, seated by a pond, staring at the camera out of the darkness.  Such beauty! There was also a photo by Tim Laman of snow-flecked, long-haired apes with red faces sitting in that hot spring in Japan’s Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park, which is on my Bucket List of things to see before I die.  They look like old men trying to stay warm.  So very human!
     A small monitor played a video of different animals, each a blow-up from Joel Sartore’s Photoark, a mural displayed in its entirety on the opposite wall.  Another monitor ran a video of primatologist Jane Goodall speaking in China about her work with chimpanzees, complete with some imitations of ape calls; I presume it was sponsored by NGS.
     The exhibit included not only animals, but also famous people, another of the Society’s fields of interests.  In the section reserved for underwater exploration, right behind a model of his diving saucer, there was (logically) a photo of a very young Jacques-Yves Cousteau from 1960.  Prominently displayed was a photo of polar explorer Robert Peary, his grim, bearded face haloed by a warm fur parka.  Photographer unknown, but taken on an expedition funded by National Geographic to reach the North Pole.  (Science would later claim Peary stopped 30-60 miles short.)

   In the following section were photos which could be dubbed world affairs.  One that hit me upon entering was Steve McCurry’s 1985 cover photo of that green-eyed Afghan girl, where the eyes jump out at you and hold your gaze.  She embodies every woman who has ever had to live through war, with all its hardships, including the ever-present risk of rape for any woman in times of conflict.  Near her was a striking photo (I believe also McCurry’s) taken in 1985 of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir.  Fighting the Russians during that first modern Afghan War, and consequently seen then by America as having a common enemy with us, Massoud would end up one of the earliest victims of Al Qaeda, massacred by two of its agents posing as Belgian journalists, arguably because he’d gotten wind of the preparations for 9/11.
     At the very end of the hallway, and of the exhibition, was a viewing room where you could sit and watch three National Geographic films.  The first was on the Titanic, and whether it broke in two or not as it went down. The second was from the Society’s wildlife channel, on all sorts of animals but especially a jaguar up a tree, heckled by attacking hyenas below.  The last video took on the issue of tar sands.  All were excellent and you could stay and watch the three of them in a loop as long as you wanted.

As I walked back down the hallway to the museum’s entrance, I reflected on the fact that I had seen so many of the destinations on my Bucket List for the first time in the pages of this magazine!  Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, Cuba, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, those old-man monkeys...
     But for the time being, it’s back across Paris to my home on the hill.  Outside the Museum, on the opposite side of the street, stands the beautiful Paris Mosque, where I get on the same bus my children used to take home from their school nearby.  Between that and all those National Geographic photos from the past century, I feel like a Time Traveler.

P.S.  Before I left, I took a peek down the other exhibit hall of the building and found it filled with sparkling geodes, huge crystals and multi-colored minerals - pyrite, amethyst, chalcedony, malachite - from around the world.  Some of them date all the way back to Abbé Haüy, the mineralogist who, with Cuvier, amassed all these wonders for which Paris eventually built this natural science complex.  I’ll come back another day to look at them and marvel.

National Geographic:  The Legend

Galérie de Minéralogie et de Géologie
Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle
36 rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire, 5è
Métro:  Jussieu

Until September 18, 2017
10-6 / Closed Tuesdays

12 € & 8 € (free under 18 years of age)


Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Day Out: Giverny

Paris offers no shortage of things to do.  But sometimes you just want to get out of the city for a day.  Commune with Nature.
     France’s rail system makes that easy.  And relatively cheap.
     So let’s consider a day trip.  To Giverny.  To commune with Nature as Claude Monet perceived it.

First: Getting there
Giverny is a small town in Normandy, near the Seine River downstream from Paris.  Monet chose it because it was out of the way.  So no train station here.  But the much bigger town of Vernon is just 6.2 kilometers (4 miles) down the road.  And it does have a train station.
     Trains run from Gare St. Lazare in Paris directly to Vernon every two hours daily, and sometimes more frequently.  The trip takes 45 minutes. For instance, there’s a train at 8:19 in the morning that gets you into Vernon at 9:05 and another at 10:19 that gets you there at 11:05.  As Monet’s house opens at 9:30, that first train leaves you time to take the shuttle bus (parked just outside the train station) to Giverny - a 20-minute ride - and still get there in time for opening.
     - Round-trip Paris-Vernon-Paris: about 20€
     - Round-trip Giverny shuttle: 10 €

Monet’s House and Gardens
A word to the wise:  there will be a crowd.  And a line.  But you can book tickets early on-line and print them out, in which case there’s a side entrance (also marked “for groups”) where there will be no line.  Lucky you.
     As the house is small, I suggest starting there.  Before the tourist buses arrive if possible - which is where the 8:19 train out of Paris comes in handy.  Monet’s actual studio is always the highlight for me, because I can imagine him painting there on rainy days.  The last time I went, there was a huge photo of him in one corner, and there are always reproductions of many of his works (hanging to dry?) on the walls..  Then there’s his collection of Japanese prints, which he said inspired him.  (The Japanese come as much to see them as they do the gardens, I think.)  And after all the restful blues in the other rooms of the house, the sunny yellow dining room seems even brighter.  Last of all, the burnished copper pots and pans hanging on the wall of the kitchen, and the blue-and-white tiles.
     Next come the gardens.  I’ve been to Giverny multiple times, in different seasons (April through October) and I’ve never seen the same garden twice. Monet planned it all out very well, season by season, and a large cast of gardeners have maintained and improved on it ever since his death.  At this time of year (June), it’s lush with delphiniums, rhododendron, poppies of many colors... all of it accented by allium standing tall.  Not to mention all the rosebushes.
     Then it’s through the underpass - paid for decades ago by the Annenberg family - and just like going through the looking glass, you’re in another world, a much less planified garden... at least on the surface. Monet called it his “jardin d’eau”, his water garden. There’s a bamboo forest that grows thicker every year. And much other greenery. All framing the lily pond that Monet created from a brook called the Ru.  (His neighbors were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water, so he needed the backing of City Hall to dig out the pond. But by 1893, who would refuse anything to the great Monsieur Monet?)  You’ll see Monet’s rowboat floating near the Japanese bridge and, if you’re lucky, if it’s late enough in the season, and in the day, and if the sun is out, you just might see the water lilies open.  It took me years for conditions to be ideal.  That’s when I took this photo.
     After sitting a bit and taking it all in, retrace your steps.  At the far end of the flower garden, past the turkeys and chickens, the exit is obviously via a gift shop, and this one is a pip (as the British used to say).  If you don’t find something for Aunt Martha back home there, then you’re hopeless.

Eglise Sainte-Radégonde
As long as we’re visiting vestiges of Monet, you can stop by the cemetery alongside the village’s small church at the far west end of the same street as the museum (Rue Claude Monet, what else?) to see his grave.  Nearby is a monument to the seven unfortunate British airmen who crashed here two days after D-Day in 1944.  As for the Romanesque church, built between the 11th and 16th centuries, it’s topped by a typically Norman steeple and inside are some old pieces of art dating back to the 14th century.

Other Museum
In between Monet’s house and the village church is another Impressionism museum.  As one of the founders and leaders of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet attracted other artists, some of them from as far away as the United States.  (Far away because back then it took over a week to travel by boat to France from North America, not to mention crossing the nation to reach the docks of New York City.)  John Leslie Breck, Theodore Butler, Lilla Cabot Perry, Robert Vonnoh, Theodore Wendel, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Theodore Robinson, Frederick Frieseke, Guy Rose, Dawson Dawson-Watson, Louis Paul Dessar, Thomas Buford Meteyard, William Howard Hart, Frederick MacMonnies, Karl Anderson, Richard Emil Miller... they all found their way to this sleepy village.
     In 1992, philanthropist businessman Daniel Terra opened the doors of his creation:  the Museum of American Art in Giverny.  Its purpose:  “to explore the historic and aesthetic connections between French and American artists.”  The modern building he commissioned is unobtrusive from the outside, all light and huge hanging walls inside.  It's perfect.  But Mr. Terra died in 1996 and the museum, as such, outlived him by only ten years.  Although there is still a Terra Foundation, the museum was handed over to the regional authorities and has become the Musée des Impressionismes.  It now operates in conjunction with the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, as well as with the Fondation Claude Monet.  After recent exhibits on artists such as Caillbotte and the Paris years of Sorolla, the present exhibit focuses on musical instruments as represented in Impressionist art.

Auberge Baudy
But back to those American artists who wandered all the way to Giverny only to find there were no hotel accommodations.  The first one, Willard Metcalf, knocked on the village grocer’s door as the sun was starting to set. Madame Baudy opened the door, stared at the bearded giant spouting some gibberish in abominable French about a bed - she only had her own - then slammed and locked the door.  Months later he came back, with artist friends, and she realized what they wanted... and that there was money to be made.  She gave up her bed and slept at the neighbor’s, coming back the next day to cook for them.  The rest is history.  Monsieur Baudy stopped selling his sewing machines on the road and built a bigger house, which he turned into a hotel.  And a restaurant.
     Today you can’t sleep at the Auberge, but you can eat there.  Inside or on the terrace under the trees.  The setting is bucolic, the service snappy and friendly, the food fresh, good, copious and not too expensive, especially for people used to Paris prices (either à la carte, or 30€ for a three-course meal)..

Eaten at a leisurely pace, hopefully in good company, that just leaves time to walk back downhill to the shuttle.  As the buses are well-coordinated with French Rail, there’s one that leaves at 16:10 and gets you to the train station by 16:30.  Plenty of time to even have a glass of something refreshing at the café across the street and still make the 16:53 train back, arriving in Paris at 17:40... just in time for rush hour.
     Welcome back to the modern world!

To see what grows when in Monet’s garden:  http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/calendar.htm

For a general view and practical information:  on http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/visitgb.htm

Auberge Baudy’s menu can be found (in French) at: http://www.restaurantbaudy.com/menu-carte