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)

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