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.)