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:

For a general view and practical information:  on

Auberge Baudy’s menu can be found (in French) at:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Out & About: Exhibits: Balenciaga: Working in Black

In addition to food and art, another thing Paris is famous for is fashion.
     One of the leading fashion designers of my youth was Balenciaga, whose dresses were delicious works of art, alongside those of Schiaparelli.  So the exhibit at the Bourdelle Museum was a must for me.

When I get to the Bourdelle Museum, I find out just how much I did not know about Balenciaga. For instance, I thought he was French, but no.  Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) was Basque, from the Spanish side of the border.  Learning from his seamstress mother as of childhood, he went on to apprentice as a tailor before opening his own fashion house.  Given his tailor’s training, he was able to design, cut and sew his creations himself, one of the few couturiers who could take a dress from the drawing board to the runway all by himself.  His clientele grew to include Spain’s royal family, but when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Balenciaga closed his fashion house and moved to Paris, where he became pretty much an overnight success.
     Christian Dior called him “the master of us all”, which is high praise from someone most people saw as being the master himself. To Coco Chanel, he was "the only couturier in the truest sense of the word.  The others are simply fashion designers."  And to everyone, Balenciaga was known for his uncompromising standards.
     His creations were always sculptures.  At the start of the 1950's, he drew women’s shoulders wider and did away with the waist.  Then in the mid-Fifties he moved on to the tunic dress, followed closely by the chemise dress.  His looks were many, as the exhibit points out: “the barrel line (1947), the balloon (1950), the semi-fitted (1951), the tunic dress (1955), and, of course, the sack dress (1957)”.  By the end of the Fifties, he had switched his look to Empire waistline dresses and kimono-style coats.
     Balenciaga not only created his own style; he mentored a whole generation of rising designers, the most famous of which were Givenchy, Courreges, Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta.  In addition to his European clientele, his creations attracted attention across the Atlantic.  Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, among others, were all faithful to Balenciaga.

This exhibit focuses on his version of Chanel’s proverbial “little black dress”, in all its various forms.  He played on the opposition of matte black, as in wools and velvets, and the “brilliant black” of satin, silk or taffeta.  As one exhibit panel explains, “He used black textures to accentuate the play of shadows and to emphasise the line.”  To that he added accents with embroidery - perhaps borrowed from the “suit of light” of the matadors - or with sequins, paillettes and jet beads.
     Another of the couturier’s tricks was how he used the fabric, how he shaped and cut it.  “In order to get the best out of a fabric, Balenciaga would adapt his technique to its qualities.  According to its weight, its thickness, its hang and its feel, he would cut it or mould it or drape it differently.”
     Even when he used other colors, black was part of the formula.  At one point Balenciaga designed dresses of bright pink cloth visible only as an accent through the black lace overlay.  The lace was reminiscent of Spanish mantillas. As for the pink, sometimes it was gentle, almost flesh-toned, sometimes the bright color of a toreador’s cape.
     It must be remembered that there is black galore in Balenciaga’s native Spain.  Perhaps it was seeing all the widows, sometimes condemned to wear only black as of an early age, that led him to experiment with that “color”.
     As the exhibit explains, “...for Balenciaga, black was more than a colour or even a non-colour; he saw it as a vibrant matter, by turns opaque or transparent, matte or shiny – a dazzling interplay of light, which owes as much to the luxurious quality of the fabrics as to the apparent simplicity of his cut.  A lace highlight, an embroidered composition, some twisted metallic tape, a thick drape of silk velvet and, presto, you have a skirt, a bolero, a mantilla, a cape reinvented as a coat, a coat tailored as a cape.”
     The exhibit is broken down into three sections: “Silhouette & Volumes”, followed by “Noirs & Lumières” (Black & Light), and then “Noirs et Couleurs” (‘Blacks & Colours’).   In total there are over one hundred pieces from the Galliera Museum and Maison Balenciaga:  day clothes, suits, jackets, evening outfits, cocktail dresses and accessories.  All in black.

Initially, I found it a bit perplexing why these dresses were being shown at the Bourdelle Museum.  I mean, yes, Balenciaga was called the sculptor of haute couture so I guess that was the link with the sculpture of Bourdelle.  But once I got there and saw the dresses next to Bourdelle’s plaster casts in the museum’s Great Hall, and even a few in his atelier, it turned out to be a brilliant idea.
     My only regret:  the dim lighting.  Especially for the black dresses set against a black background.  Obviously it’s necessary to protect these works of fashion art, and harsh lighting is not kind.  But black doesn’t show up well in the shadows.  Perhaps they could pump up the luminosity just a bit.
     With that one caveat, if you enjoy fashion, this is a show for you.

Cristobal Balenciaga

Balenciaga:  L’Ouevre au noir

Musée Bourdelle
18 rue Antoine-Bourdelle, 15è
Métro: Montparnasse

Until July 16, 2017
10-6 / Closed Mondays

10 € & 7 € (free under 18 years of age)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On the Road: Honfleur

It’s only a short trip from Paris to Honfleur - under 200 kilometers (125 miles), but one well worth making, either by car or by train.
     For art historians, it offers a look at what so many Impressionists came here to paint.  First of all, hometown boy Eugène Boudin, actually a pre-Impressionist who influenced Claude Monet greatly in the perception of light, especially on water.  Charles-François Daubigny, also a precursor of Impressionism, captured the port of Honfleur on many canvases, basing himself at the Saint-Siméon farm which became a home-away-from-home for a whole new generation of artists, including  Jongkind and Bazille. Monet and Seurat fell under the charm of the port as well.
     It’s easy to see why.  Filled with fishing boats back then, the small inner port is now booked year-round by sailboats that sometimes reach yacht size.  When I was there last, the drawbridge to the inner harbor twice blocked car and pedestrian traffic, with waiting boats circling patiently outside the harbor as the bridge was slowly raised.  Some were locals; some flew British flags and had booked ahead of time.
     (I see someone in the back of the room waving his hand.  “Why the drawbridge?”  Because there are tides in Honfleur.  It’s at the mouth of the Seine River, but actually on the English Channel, so... tides.  There’s a lock on the drawbridge; otherwise the inner port would go dry, or at least the water level would be too low at certain times of the day.  Oh, and also because of the boat’s masts.)

The fishing port
At the north end of the inner port, there’s a tower near the drawbridge.  The memorial plaque on it reminds you that Jacques Cartier sailed out of Honfleur in 1535 and up the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, claiming the New World - at least this part of it - for the king of France.  In 1608 he again sailed, this time founding the city of Québec.  All of which makes Honfleur a small port, but a historic one.
Musée de la Marine
     On the east side of the harbor is the Musée de la Marine, housed in the old Saint-Etienne Church whose religious activities ended once and for all under the French Revolution.  It became a customs house, then, since 1976, a museum with a collection of maps, engravings, paintings and model ships that trace the town’s maritime history of fishing, naval construction, commerce and ship-related crafts.  (Closed Mondays, at lunchtime during tourist season and all morning outside tourist season).

   All around the inner port runs a wide terrace that has been taken over in its entirety by the port’s restaurants, especially on the west side.  (Parasols are provided to shelter you from the sun.)  It would be hard to find fish or seafood any fresher than here.  It’s brought in by the fishermen in the morning and picked up by the chef’s staff as the boats moor.  Seafood platters are a beauty to behold - as befits an artistic town - and a blessing for the stomach.  You can pick what you want.  If I don’t give in to a sole meunière, I usually end up with half a dozen oysters, some clams, sea snails, pink shrimp and also those little grey ones you can’t find in the States.  All washed down with some chilled white wine.
     After lunch, it’s time to see “uptown”, as I call it.

Eglise Sainte-Catherine
Head down towards the tower at the drawbridge and turn left.  You’ll see the Eglise Sainte-Catherine higher up on your left.  It’s well worth a look inside.  Honfleur being a town of boat-building, this church was hewn by workers from the naval shipyards without the use of a saw, as were the ships of William the Conqueror in 1066, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. You’ll probably notice right away that there are not one but two naves, side by side.  The first (the one on the left as you face the altar) dates from the 15th century.  It was built once the English left shortly after the end of the Hundred Years War, to replace the stone church that was destroyed in that war.  If you look up, you’ll find it looks like the keel of a boat overturned. The second nave was added about a century later, when the town’s population had outgrown the little church, and looks less like a ship and more like a modest Gothic church, although there’s still a harmony between the two, at least to me.
     Across the street from the church is its steeple made all of oak.  Yes, you heard that right: across the street.  Given the location of the church on the side of a hill, and the height of the steeple, it would have attracted too many lightning strikes.  Which is bad for an all-wood church (the largest in France).  So the steeple was built away from the church, and the bell-ringer was allowed to live in the ground level space.  You can go in and see vestiges of the old structure.
     To the right of that as you look at the building, the Rue des Lingots heads downhill.  Turn left in the first street, and walk down the Rue de l’Homme de Bois to the Musée Eugène Boudin (closed Tuesdays).  It’s a lot of bang for your 8 €.  Inside you’ll find an old repurposed chapel of the Convent of the Augustine Sisters.  As is only fitting, there are a number of works by Boudin himself, surrounded by those of his artist friends:  Monet, Jongkind, Courbet,  Eugène Isabey, Charles Mozin, Alexandre Dubourg, Charles Pécrus, Gustave Hamelin, and Adolphe Félix Cals.  Upstairs are two levels of modern exhibit space added on in the 1970's to help house the over 2,500 works of art the museum has accumulated.  Not only can you enjoy temporary art exhibits there, but the end wall, completely of glass, offers a wonderful view out over this part of the town’s rooftops to the harbor and the very modernistic Normandie Bridge beyond.
     Music lovers may already know that Erik Satie, composer of Gymnopédies, is a native of Honfleur.  To see his house (closed Tuesdays), turn right as you leave the Musée Boudin, then left down a little alley to the Rue Haute (which means Main Street in French), then left again and it will be about a block down on the right at Number 90.  Or, if you don’t like alleyways, turn left exiting the museum, go a block or two and turn right into the Rue du Trou Miard, then right again into the Rue Haute and it’ll be farther down on the left.  The house is very small, but take the audioguide that will turn on the light-and-sound show as you enter each room, giving a commentary on a bit of Satie’s life and playing some of his tunes.  You’ll get a real feel for how small houses were back then.  But the really fun part is when you reach what I remember as the final room, which has a four-seater merry-go-round that you pedal and it makes music and sounds as you go!
   When you’re done having fun with Satie, go out the exit on the Boulevard Charles V side, turn right and head back to the harbor.  Children might enjoy a ride on a real merry-go-round at the outlet of the inner port. Adults may enjoy a drink at a different place on the inner port before heading back wherever you came from.  Or you can take a boat tour out onto the Seine and under the Normandie Bridge with Cauchois Cruises, leaving from the foot of the boulevard (1½ hr).
     Cruises, water colors, hewn wood churches, seafood on the port... Any way you look at it, Honfleur and water are intimately intermingled.

Restaurants on the inner port:  My particular favorite is L'Abricotier (68 Quai Sainte-Catherine), perhaps for no other reason than habit but I’ve never had a bad meal there.

As to hotels, there are many.
Hotel L'Ecrin
If you don’t mind steep stairs and noise from passers-by, there’s Le Dauphin on the Place Pierre Berthelot, right by the Eglise Sainte Catherine.  It has some bedrooms on the ground floor, which might be handy for people with mobility problems, but then again Honfleur is not necessarily kind to people with mobility problems.
Otherwise, try L’Ecrin a few blocks further “inland”, on the rue Eugène Boudin.  It has parking and a small pool put in recently, plus a garden where you might just get breakfast, or tea, if the weather is clement.

Musée Eugène Boudin:

Satie House:

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