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

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