Berthe Morisot 

Morisot by Édouard Manet

Berthe Morisot, the lone female artist amongst the group who in 1873 founded the Impressionist art movement, wrote ‘I do not think any man would ever treat a woman as his equal and it is all I ask because I know my worth’. Despite these remarks Berthe Morisot was well respected amongst this founding group which included Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro and in fact when the Impressionist movement started, Morisot had enjoyed far more success than these other artists. Ten years earlier in 1864 when she was only 23, Morisot had her work accepted by the official Paris Salon, a very difficult achievement for a woman of her day and in 1872 the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel started buying her paintings. Yet, despite all these achievements, Morisot today is far less known then the other founding members of Impressionism. Why I am not sure but you have to wonder is it because she is a woman, a fact the artist herself believed prevented her from being seen as an equal to her male contemporaries .


Today, for those who want to get a feel for this artist, there is no where better to start than the Musée Marmottan Monet who hold the largest collection of her work thanks to a donation from her descendants examples of which include ‘The Cherry Pickers’, 1891 (above left) and ´At the Ball’, 1875 (above right). The ‘Cherry Pickers’ in particular is typical of the light that Morisot infused into her paintings as she matured giving her works their unique brand.


So who was Berthe Morisot. Well, she was born into an affluent family who had a strong artistic interest and as was quite normal for girls of her background she, along with her sisters, received an artistic education. It became evident that she and her older sister, Edna, were gifted artists and by the age of 16, Berthe alongside Edma were copying the old masters at the Louvre. It was here she met Camille Corot, the famous landscape painter, who introduced her to painting ‘en plein air’ (outdoors). The sisters continued to work closely as artists until Edma married and moved to Brittany whereas Berthe seems to have abandoned ideas of marraige and children for the sake of her art. Edma’s letters to Berthe show that she missed painting and ´The Cradle’ (above left), one of Berthe’s most famous paintings and now in the Musée D’Orsay, depicts Edma looking at her sleeping child but suggesting that she is in fact not thinking about her daughter but her artistic days goneby.

In 1868 Berthe met the renouned artist Édouard Manet. Manet was nine years older than Berthe but the two became friends with some suggestions that they were romantically involved despite the fact that Manet was already married. With or without romance the pair were influential in each other’s work. Berthe was painted IMG_233612 times by Manet and these portraits capture Morisot’s beauty especially in her magnetic eyes as well as portraying her independent and determined spirit. One such portrait (above), showing a reclining Berthe, was in her collection at her death and can now be seen in the Musée Marmottan Monet.
In 1874 at the age of 33, Berthe went on to marry Manet’s brother Eugène, himself an artist but who agreed to give up his own career in order to manage Berthe’s. The couple appeared to have been content and had one child, Julie. Both Eugène and especially Julie became favorite subjects of Berthe as can be seen in several of the paintings at the Musée Marmottan Monet including the one below entitled ´Eugène Manet and his Daughter at Bougival’, 1881 which shows Eugène looking tenderly at his young daughter engrossed in her game. IMG_2324In fact many of Morisot’s works depicted domestic scenes like this because by virtue of her sex, there were some subjects she was prevented from undertaking such as cabaret, café, bars, dancing girls, etc.

IMG_2338By the time of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Berthe’s work was still being accepted by the official Paris Salon but this did not prevent her brave move in switching to the impressionist’s exhibition. She would go on to contribute to all bar one of the eight impressionist exhibitions until the group disbanded. In 2013, Morisot’s painting ´After Lunch’ (left),  sold for $10.9 million being the highest auction price paid for a work by a female artist which I can only imagine brought a smile to the artist’s lips. Proof also that she has not been entirely overshadowed by her male counterparts!

Musée Jacquemart-André

From my first visit to the Musée Jacquemart-André, I was captivated by this beautiful mansion and the story of its owners, Nélie Jacquemart and Edouard André. The museum’s audioguide recounts details from an article in the magazine L’Illustration of it’s inaugural ball in 1876 and it describes the scene as a ‘dazzling fairytale ball’ which was attended by ‘all the celebrities of fashion and elegance’ with ‘the walls of the reception rooms smothered under a balmy canopy of violets and lilies’ and ‘the double ballroom ablaze with one thousand candles’.

Musée Jacquemart- André
But who were this couple behind the mansion? Edouard André, born in 1833, was the heir to a huge banking fortune and it was he who commissioned the building of the mansion whilst still a batchelor so that he could house his growing art collection. Nélie Jacquemart, on the other hand, had almost ‘a rag to riches story’ having been born into a modest family but whose talent elevated her to become a successful society portraitist. The couple first met when Edouard commissioned Nélie to paint his portrait but it would be another 10 years before they would marry in 1881. Having no children, they spent the next 13 years of married life, until Edouard’s death, devoting their time and energy to their shared taste in art and to their growing collection. They spent six months of the year travelling extensively mainly in Europe and particularly in Italy searching out works of art to add to their collection. On Edouard’s death, Nélie continued to travel and add to the collection and on her death, the property and its collection were bequeath to the state. It opened as a museum in 1913.

Edouard André painted by his wife Nélie Jacquemart and Nélie  Jacquemart, self portrait
The collection which includes works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Tiepolo, just to mention a few, is spread out over the mansion but the museum is worth a visit just to see the beautiful rooms themselves. On entering, the visitor is greeted by three magnificent formal reception rooms which were used to  host balls and musical eveings.

These three rooms above, comprising the Picture Gallery, the Grand Salon and the Music room, could be transformed into one single space when the couple held their lavish parties and could hold upto 1000 guests. Beyond these rooms is the Winter Garden, a more refreshing space under a glass celing with a monumental staircase made of marble leading up to the Italian Museum, whose Italian collection is considered to be the finest in France after the Louvre. Here you will find works by many of the great Italian masters including the one below left, ‘The Virgin and Child’ by Perugino (1446-1523).


Back downstairs are the informal apartments consisting of a series of smaller more intimate rooms including the library, the smoking room and the study.IMG_2302 These rooms were used by the couple for their personal and business affairs and today are still filled with the works of art amassed by the couple including the likes of the portrait of Countess Skavronskia by Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun (1775-1842), the favourite artist of Queen Marie-Antoinette (opposite right). Finally, there are the private apartments consisting of Néliés bedroom, Edouard’s bedroom and an antechamber between the two.

Finally, a trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without a visit to it’s amazing café which used to be the dining room in the couple’s home. You can actually visit the café without visiting the museum and it will give you a flavour of what is on offer in this unique museum.

Café at the Musée Jacquemart-André
Just look up and admire the fresco by Tiepolo, 1696-1770, which the couple brought from Villa Contarini near Venice and had installed in their home.

Pissarro in Éragny, Exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg 

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), who is now considered to be the father of Impressionism, has the honour of being the subject of two exhibitions currently showing in Paris. The first at the Musée Marmottan Monet which I have already posted about, spans the entire of the artist’s career whereas the one at the Musée du Luxembourg is dedicated to the last twenty years of Pissarro’s life when he lived at Éragny, a rural village north of Paris. From his arrival in 1855 in Paris from Saint-Thomas in the Danish West Indies where he was born, Pissarro experienced constant upheaval so when his wife was expecting their eight child in 1883, he went in search of a new home. He found this in Éragny where he would remain until his death nearly 20 years later. IMG_2257Pissarro was very happy in the agricultural setting of Éragny and the property he settled in, afforded him uninterrupted views of the landscape that surrounded it. Pissarro loved to paint the scenes from this property and he never lost interest in his surroundings as they continued to offer him something new as the view before him changed according to the light or the season. He certainly seemed to capture the beautiful light of a snowy day in the painting ‘Effect of Snow at Éragny, the Road to Gisors’, 1885 from a private collection on display at the exhibition (see above). As the years went by, he incorporated more and more into his work, the labourers and locals from the surrounding area as can be seen from the three paintings below :

img_2266-5                 Haystacks, Evening, Éragny, 1893, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, USA,


Woman Bathing her Feet in a Brook, 1895, Art Institute of Chicago, USA


Apple Picking at Éragny, Dallas Museum of Art, USA

Initially, Pissarro could only rent the property but in 1892, with the help of a loan from his longtime friend Claude Monet, he was able to purchase it. In fact, Éragny came to be as inspirational to Pissarro as Giverney became to Monet.

IMG_2275.PNGPissarro’s time in Éragny confirmed that he was first and foremost an Impressionist. Pissarro had been instrumental in setting up the Impressionist group in 1873 and although he worked for a period whilst living in Éragny in the pointillist style (literally applying the paint in dots), he eventually returned to Impressionism, long after the Impressionist group had broken up in 1886. Pissarro considered himself the only true Impressionist. This Impressionist style is clearly in evidence in the painting above entitled ‘The Stairs, corner of a garden at Éragny’, 1897 on loan from Ordrupgaard Museum, Denmark, which is in fact Pissarro’s own garden at Éragny with his wife Julie in the foreground dressed in white.

IMG_2276And finally to my favourite painting in the exhibition ‘The Haystack, Sunset, Éragny’, 1895 from the Collection Joseph and Elizabeth Wilf, USA. It is not a particularly large painting but the light of the setting sun is exquisite turning an ordinary scene into an extraordinary one. Apparently Pissarro started painting haystack scenes in 1885 long before Monet commenced his famous series of Haystacks six years later at Giverney. This painting offers the best of Pissarro at Éragny, not only in the way it captures the effect of the setting sun, but also the way it depicts the world around him in Éragny with its orchards, haystacks and of course labourers.

A word on the museum: The Musée du Luxembourg is situated in the Jardin du Luxembourg and it has no permanent collection being simply an exhibition space run by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux and the Grand Palais. There is no café in the building itself but a branch of Angelina’s, the famous Parisian tea-house is adjacent to it (above left ). If you prefer something a little less formal there are a couple of options in the Jardin du Luxembourg itself where you can relax and absorb the exhibition after you have completed the tour ( above right being one such spot).

Three Bathers by Paul Cézanne at the Petit Palais,Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

I first read about the painting ‘Three Bathers’ by Paul Cézanne when I read Hilary Spurling’s biography on Henri Matisse many years ago which left me in no doubt about the powerful impact this painting had on Matisse. Matisse was so struck by this painting that he pawned his wife’s emerald ring to purchase it from the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. This was in 1889 and Matisse didn’t part with it for another 37 years when he donated it to the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris in 1936. When he presented the painting to the Petit Palais, Matisse wrote that “It has supported me morally at critical moments in my venture as an artist; I have drawn from it my faith and my  perseverance”. The painting exerted such a powerful pull over Matisse that while living in Quai St-Michel in Paris, he got up early each morning so that he could start the day by contemplating  the painting in the early morning light. This power was also noted by Matisse’s students who remembered that when Matisse showed it to them, he remained silent before it and a spirit of awe prevailed.img_1841

The painting is not very large and it is executed in beautiful shades of yellow, blues and greens. The painting is set out in an orderly structure with the three nude female bathers placed in a triangular shape and framed by the branches of two tress that form an arc over them giving an architectural feel to the painting. The bathers are painted as stocky figures each bather having similar long hair except one is blonde, the second red and the third dark.

Two Nudes, 1906 by Picasso
Matisse’s rival, Pablo Picasso, was also a great admirer of Three Bathers. Although rivals, the pair visited each other’s studios regularlly and hence Picasso had the opportunity to study the painting in the intimate  environment of Matise’s studio. The influence of Three Bathers and Cezanne generally on Picasso can be seen, for example, in Picasso’s ‘Two Nudes’ painted in 1906 notably in the hefty nature of the figures. Picasso would go on to say that Cezanne ´was my one and only master’ and acknowledge him as ´the father of us all’. It was not just Cezanne’s representation of form that inspired Picasso but also his palette as colour did not come instinctively to Picasso.

Cézanne, Self Portrait, 1890
Paul Cezanne was born into a prosperous family in Aix-en-Provence in 1839 so he didn’t struggle financially as an artist but he failed to get during his lifetime the artistic recognition that he obtained after his death in 1906. He did, however, obtain the admiration of the younger artists of his time and not just Matisse and Picasso but also the likes of Georges Braque who said of Cezanne that “painting was a matter of life and death. That is why I have learned more from him than from anybody”. It wasn’t until his first solo exhibition organised by Ambroise Vollard in 1895 that Cezanne began to get some recognition in his lifetime. Today, Cezanne is considered as one of the most influential artists of the 19th century and the inspiration for the cubist movement of the 20th century. Cezanne’s artistic style is easily recognisable whether it be his still lifes, his landscapes, his portraits or his bathers as some of his most famous images below demonstrate.

The Louvre and Leonardo da Vinci

It is known the world over that the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci hangs in the Louvre. But what you may not have known is that there are four other masterpieces by Da Vinci also to be found there making the Louvre home to the largest collection of Da Vinci paintings in the world.

The Louvre and a self portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci

When I discovered this I wondered how did so many paintings from arguably the best known Italian Renaissance painter end up in a French museum. Well, it was in fact Leonardo himself who brought three of these masterpieces to France when he came to live at Clos Lucé, the manor house on the grounds of the Royal Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley, where he had been invited to live by King Francis 1.

King Francis 1
Francis 1 was a great patron of the arts so when he met Da Vinci in Bologna in 1515 he invited the painter to move to France as the ‘King’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect’. Leonardo duly accepted the offer probably being tempted by the generous pension and the promise by the King to be free ‘to dream, to think and to work’ as Leonardo saw fit. Leonardo, then aged 64, crossed the alps by donkey bringing with him, in leather saddle bags, the ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Saint John the Baptist’ and ‘The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne’.

Leonardo lived out the last three years of his life at Clos Lucé and following his death the three paintings entered the collection of Francis 1 probably having been bought by the King from Leonardo’s pupil and assistant, Salai, who appears to have inherited them from Leonardo.

The Mona Lisa, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, Saint John the Baptist.

The Virgin of the Rocks
Thereafter the paintings all followed different paths but after the French Revolution, all entered the collection at the Louvre. The fourth Da Vinci painting now hanging in the Louvre is ‘The Virgin on the Rocks’ and it was initially commissioned for a church in Milan but seems never to have found its way there. There are a few theories on what happened to the painting next but according to the Louvre’s website it was acquired by Louis Xlll of France around 1500-1503. It again entered the Louvre’s collection following the French Revolution.

La Belle Ferronnière
The final Da Vinci painting hanging in the Louvre is ‘La Belle Ferronnière’ and it is the least documented of all the paintings. It’s first mention is in an inventory of french royal paintings dated 1683 and like the rest of the royal collection it entered the Louvre after the French Revolution.

Italian campaigners have been calling for the return of the Mona Lisa to Florence and these calls have been backed by the actor George Clooney,  following his making of the movie ‘The Monuments Men’.  Clooney directed, produced and starred in the movie which is about the recovery of stolen art from the Nazis during World War 11. But you have to feel, given that it was Leonardo Da Vinci himself who brought the Mona Lisa to France and which was legitimately bought by the french King, that this painting so closely associated with the Louvre should be left to hang where it has been enjoyed by so many for so long!

George Clooney in the movie The Monuments Men

The Burial of Casagemas by Pablo Picasso at the Musée D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

img_1839The Musée D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is situated on a height in Paris and the outdoor café which straddles the museum and the western wing of the Palais de Tokyo has an amazing view across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. I wasn’t long living in Paris when I paid my first visit to the museum. It was a beautiful day in September and I can still remember drinking my coffee, taking in the view and feeling like I was living ‘the dream’! I have returned often to the museum but amazing and all as the view from the cafe is, it has been primarily to see Pablo Picasso’s ‘The Burial of Casagemas’, 1901 otherwise known as ‘Evocation’.

Casegemas by Picasso, 1899
The story of Casagemas is a sad one. Casagemas was a poet and an artist who was born in Barcelona in 1880 to a bourgeois family. Casagemas seems always to have suffered with problems and by the time he met Picasso in the spring of 1899, aged 18, he was already addicted to drugs and alcohol. The two became inseparable and in October 1899 they headed off together to Paris where they settled in Montmartre. Here Casagemas met Germaine Gargallo and he fell passionately in love eventhough Germaine did not reciprocate his feelings.After two months in Paris, Picasso and Casagemas returned to Spain with Casagemas’s mental health in decline. Once in Spain, Picasso headed off alone to Madrid having had enough of Casagemas’s drinking and dependence on him. After awhile Casagemas returned to Paris where Germaine told him that she would never marry him (in fact Germaine already had a husband but this did not stop Casagemas begging her to marry him). Then, on the 17th February 1901 at dinner with a group of friends at L’Hippodrome restaurant on Boulevard de Clichy, Casagemas pulled out a gun and tried to shoot Germaine. Germaine managed to escape the bullet but fell to the ground with the force of the explosion. Casagemas, believing he had killed her, then shot himself.

The Burial of Casagemas, 1901 by Pablo Picasso

Picasso was devasated at the death of Casagemas and he also felt guiltly that he had abandoned him. Picasso painted The Burial of Casagemas about six months after Casagemas’s death and it is a peculiar painting executed primarily in blue and divided into two scenes. The lower scene shows the body of Casagemas with a blank face laid out on the ground covered in a white shroud and surrounded by a group of mourners dressed in blue. The second scene is on top and this shows the ascension of Casagemas in to heaven with Casagemas on a horse and being kissed by a nude woman. This scene includes a number of other nude prostitues some wearing stockings. There is also a woman wearing a blue cloak drawn around her standing beside two children. This cloaked woman goes onto feature in many of Picasso’s blue period paintings. Casagemas’ suicide is considered to be the start of Picasso’s famous Blue Period (1901-1904) and Picasso is supposed to have said ´It was thinking of Casagemas’s death that started me painting in blue’. Not only is this period dominated by the colour blue but the themes of Picasso’s paintings are usually despair, poverty and loneliness .
La Vie,1903 by Pablo Picasso
The masterpiece of this period is La Vie and the images of it look  hauntingly beautiful. It is now one of the highlights of the Cleveland Museum of Art and one day I hope to be fortunate enough to see it. But for now I have to content myself with The Burial of Casagemas and as entry to the Musée d’Art Moderne is free, there is no bar to me dropping in as often as I like!

Note: The section of the museum housing The Burial of Casegemas is currently closed for renovations and the museum website does not state when it will reopen. 

Claude Monet’s ‘Haystacks’ dazzle at the Musée D’Orsay

Haystack, Sunset, 1891, by Claude Monet, Boston Museum of Fine Art

Between 1890 and 1891 Claude Monet (1840-1926), the famous Impressionist artist, painted his haystack series in the environs of his home at Giverney which resulted in 25 canvases with the haystack as it’s motif. However, it was not the mundane haystack that interested Monet so much as the effect of climatic change and light on it. Two paintings from this series, ‘Haystack, Sunset’, 1891, Boston Museum of Fine Art and ‘Stacks of Wheat, Sunset, Snow Effect’, 1890-1891, Art Institute of Chicago open the current exhibition at the Musée D’Orsay and hanging side by side, the viewer can marvel at the light created in these stunning paintings.

Stacks of Wheat, Sunset, Snow Effect, 1890-1891 by Claude Monet, Art Institute of Chicago

As the viewer continues to gaze at these works, the haystack fades more and more into the background with the effect of the light dominating the scene. These paintings can almost be viewed as abstract works and are considered by some as precursors to Abstract Expressionism.

The exhibition entitled ‘Beyond the Stars : The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky’ looks at how mysticism influenced landscape painting at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. The exhibition is divided into seven rooms aiming to show how different artists conveyed their spiritual quests in response to or through nature using a wide variety of artistic styles.

Vision after the Sermon, 1888 by Gauguin

For example, in the room ‘The Divine in Nature’ hang two paintings by Paul Gauguin dealing with religious subjects in natural settings. The first ‘Vision after the Sermon’, 1888, National Gallery of Scotland, is one of the most famous paintings by Gauguin. The canvas is split in two by a slanting tree placed diagonally through the centre of the painting. In the foreground are a crowd of woman dressed in traditional Breton costumes and they face the upper right hand corner of the painting where their vision of the biblical scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel is taking place.

Christ in the Garden of Olives, 1889, by Paul Gauguin,  Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

The second painting ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’ is Gauguin’s interpretation of another biblical scene depicting a red haired Christ in the Agony in the Garden on the eve of his arrest and although some of his disciples are in the background, Christ’s sense of loneliness and pain is evident. In this painting Gauguin interprets a religious subject matter in a highly personal way as it is in fact a self portrait with Gauguin as Christ.

Vincent Van Gogh also features in the exhibition with his masterpiece ‘Starry Night’, 1888 taking centre stage in Room 5 ‘Night’ . Van Gogh was brought up in a religious household, his father being a Minister, and Vincent himself became quite religious even wanting for a time to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Starry Night, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, Musée D’Orsay

In 1888, two years before his suicide, and while living in Arles, Van Gogh while referring to ‘Starry Night’ wrote to his brother Theo saying ‘ it does not prevent me from having a terrible need of…religion…then I go outside in the night to paint the stars’.

Isolation Peak, 1930, Lawren S Harris

Given that the exhibition was organised in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, it is no surprise that it features a significant body of work from Canadian artists. At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of artists known as the Group of Seven believed that a distinct Canadian art could be developed by direct contact with nature and devoid of human presence. Lawrence S Harris was a member of the group and his seminal work The Isolation Peak, 1930, Hart House Art Collection, Toronto is an example of this ideal featuring a mountain as a simple triangle. It is a powerful almost surreal painting.

There are so many other wonderful works on display at this exhibition such as ‘The Sower’, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh, ‘Madeline in the Bois d’Amour’, 1888 by Émile Bernard,  ‘Dance on a Beach’, 1899-199 by Edvard Munch, and ‘Black Cross with Stars and Blue’,1929, Georgia O’Keeffe, just to mention a few and images of which are below.

Evening, Achill, 1912, Grace Henry

However, being Irish my final mention goes to a work on loan from the Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane called ‘Evening, Achill’, 1912 by Grace Henry. Although Grace Henry was born in Aberdeen, she married an Irish artist, Paul Henry, and as a result spent most of her career painting in Ireland. Grace and Paul Henry visited Achill, an island off the west coast of Ireland for a two week holiday in 1910 but ended up living there until 1919. During her stay here, Grace painted numerous night scenes and the painting displayed at the exhibition is one of these.

Olga Picasso exhibition at the Musée Picasso-Paris

IMG_2055Pablo Picasso’s mother, on meeting Olga who was to become  the artist’s first wife, warned her ‘you poor girl, you don’t know what you are letting yourself in for..I don’t believe any woman would be happy with my son..he is available for himself but for no one else’. These words would haunt Olga and the many other women in the artist’s life as while Picasso could be charming and loving he could equally be abusive and cruel. These emotions were best expressed by the artist in his paintings and the current exhibition at the Musée Picasso, Paris, which is organised in partnership with Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, and simply entitled ‘Olga Picasso’, presents us with works reflecting Picasso’s feelings for Olga as the relationship rose and declined.

Olga in a Mantilla, 1917

Olga Khokhlova was born in 1891 in Ukraine in the Russian Empire and in 1912, wanting to become a ballerina, she became a member of the Ballet Russe. In 1917, during the troupe’s tour in Rome she met Picasso who was designing the decorations and costumes for the ballet. Picasso and Olga, who was 10 years his junior, married the following year in Paris. However, the couple were very different, Picasso being essentially bohemian, Olga preferring to move in the upper levels of society. Picasso began to shed his bohemian lifestyle and the couple entered a new social environment all this corresponding with the fame Picasso was now receiving as an artist. It was a time too when Picasso’s artistic style was changing and following the horrors of the First World War, he entered his classical period.

His figures of this period are monumental being influenced by the statues he had seen during his time in Rome. However, a certain gloom hung over Olga as her family back in Russia were experiencing many difficulties following the Russian Revolution and this is well highlighted by correspondence between Olga and her family shown at the exhibition. This gloom has been suggested as the source of Olga’s melancholic expression in Picasso’s portraits of her at this time.

Mother and Child, 1921, The Art Institute of Chicago
The couple’s only child Paolo was born in 1921 and his birth inspired Picasso to create many works evoking tender maternity scenes between mother and child.

However, the marriage began to decline and in 1927 Picasso began an affair with the 17 year old Marie-Thérèse Walter with whom he would have a relationship for many years to come. Picasso and Olga finally separated in 1935 but they never divorced. Picasso’s changed feelings for Olga are expressed brutally in his paintings during this time , such as ´Bust of a Woman with Self Portrait’, 1929, Private Collection (above left) and ´Large Nude in a Red Chair’, 1929, Musée Picasso, Paris (above right). In the latter, Olga is depicted with a contorted body, gaping mouth and teeth bared, the image not a very pleasant one.

A very interesting feature to the exhibition is the section devoted to the large trunk that Olga’s son Paul retrieved after her death. It contained letters, photographs and various objects some of which, together with the trunk, are displayed at the exhibition. Many of the contents relate to her life as a ballerina, a part of her life that was cut short but for which she never appears to have lost interest in. These objects give you a real sense of the private life of Olga.

Terrace of rooftop café
Finally, the exhibition takes place at the Musée National Picasso-Paris, a beautiful old mansion built in the 17th century set right in the heart of the Marais with it’s central staircase and balcony being it’s masterpiece. The museum is the permanent home to Picasso’s private collection comprising of works from old and contemporary masters and is well worth a view. The museum also has a café with a lovely terrace in a rooftop setting where you can stop before, during or after a visit.

Camille Pissarro ‘First of the Impressionists’ at the Musée Marmottan Monet

Young girl with a stick, 1881, Musée D’Orsay

The Musée Marmottan Monet’s current exhibition is devoted to the artist Camille Pissarro billing him as ‘the first of the Impressionists’. Yet, despite the fact that Impressionism is one of the most popular art movements ever, the name Camille Pissarro does not spring to mind when talking about Impressionism in the way the likes of Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir do. So who was Camille Pissarro and what was his contribution to Impressionism?

Pissarro, Self-Portrait, 1898, Dallas Museum of Art

Pissarro, who has been described as the unexplored impressionist, was born in 1830 in the Danish West Indes and moved to Paris in 1855 to study and work as an artist. His initial works followed the academic traditions acceptable to the Paris Art Salons of the time as these Salons were the only way to obtain recognition as an artist. However, Pissarro was a lover of nature and eventually began to paint outdoor rural scenes and when in 1859 he met a group of younger artists including Monet and Paul Cezanne, he realised he had much in common with them such as their dislike of the Salons and their preference for painting in natural settings. Pissarro who was about ten years older than this group, would paint alongside Monet and he became teacher to Cezanne and later to Paul Gauguin, both of whom held him in high esteem. In fact, Cezanne referred to himself as ‘a pupil of Pissarro’ and it was Cezanne who called Pissarro ‘the first of the impressionists’.

The three paintings above follow Pissarro’s development starting with a work from 1864 entitled ‘The Banks of the Marne’ and on loan from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery Museum, Glasgow. Although technically very well executed and accepted by the Salon of 1864, it lacks the light and vitality of the following two paintings, the first of which was painted in 1870 and entitled ‘Route de Versailles, Louveciennes, Winter Sun and Snow’ on loan from Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. The third painting above, ‘White Frost’, Musée D’Orsay, was painted in 1873 and was one of the five paintings entered by Pissarro in the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.

The Pork Butcher, 1883, Tate, London

However, during the 1860s Pissarro continued to exhibit in the established Salons until he left for London in 1870 with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. On his return to Paris after the war he reconnected with his impressionists friends and he advocated an alternative to the Salons .He was instrumental in setting up the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 in which he entered five paintings.
In fact, Pissarro would go on to be the only artist to exhibit in all eight impressionist’s exhibitions. Following this period Pissarro, in the years between 1886-1890, was drawn to Neo-Impressionism thereby aligning himself with the painters George Seurat and Paul Signac.

‘Apple Picking’, 1886, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan

‘Apple Picking ‘, above, is one of the masterpieces of this period and it is a beautiful vivid canvas which Pissarro started in the Impressionist style and finished using the techniques of neo-Impressionist. He ultimately abandoned the neo-Impressionism style of painting, finding its techniques, which involved using dots and blocks of colour, too restrictive. Pissarro continued to evolve and when later in life an eye problem prevented him from working outdoors, and with the encouragement of his art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, he began painting urban scenes from the window of hotel rooms and later from an apartment he rented in Paris.

Afternoon Sunshine, Pont Neuf, 1901, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The exhibition brings together over 75 works from major museums and private collections worldwide eight of which are being exhibited in France for the first time. The exhibition includes paintings from the various periods of Pissarro’s life with works from his youth, his years spent in

The Seine at Rouen, the effect of fog, 1888, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Louveciennes, Pontoise and Éragny-sur-Epte, to works following the traditional academic style, onto Impressionism and then neo-Impressionism. The exhibition demonstrates that Pissarro was not afraid to embrace change not just in terms of artistic style but also in terms of subject matter which ranged from rural scenes, figures, the ports of Normandy and to his series of urban scenes. The exhibition succeeds not just in showing Pissarro’s influence on impressionism but also his influence on the many artists he encountered in his lifetime. Finally, a word of warning, the exhibition space at the Musée Marmottan Monet is not big but the crowds, at times, were overwhelming so if you get the opportunity to visit the exhibition plan your visit to coincide with the less popular times.

Masterpieces from Ireland showcasing at the Louvre’s exhibition ‘Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting’


The National Gallery of Ireland

Being Irish and it being St Patrick’s Day, it is with particular delight that I write about the Louvre’s current exhibition ‘Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting’ as it has been organised in collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland and The National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition explores the relationship between Vermeer and his contemporaries during the Dutch Golden Age period of 1650-1675 and aims to show that despite the traditional view of Vermeer as an isolated figure, he was in fact part of a group of artists who admired, inspired and competed with one another.

Vermeer’s output was low only producing around 45 paintings of which only 36 are known today. The exhibition brings together 12 of these paintings, the most interesting of which, from an Irish point of view, is ‘A Lady Writing a Letter, with her Maid’, it being one of the paintings on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland.

Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid

The painting is considered one of Vermeer’s outstanding works incorporating many of his recognisable components such as the quiet inactive figures in a domestic scene, his preoccupation with light, back wall painting, window frame and tiled floor. The painting has a mysterious quality to it with the viewer wondering who is the lady writing to, is it her lover, is the maid complicit in the act or is she merely bored and gazing out the window?Vermeer did not sell this painting during his lifetime instead it was sold by his widow after his death to cover her costs for bread. The painting ultimately ended up in Ireland in 1952 when Sir Alfred Beit, a British politician who became an honorary Irish citizen, bought Russborough House in County Wicklow moving there with his wife and bringing with them their art collection. At Russborough House the painting had an eventful history being the subject of two robberies. The first was in 1974 and was led by an IRA gang during which the elderly Beits were tied up. The thieves got away with several paintings including ‘A Lady Writing a Letter, with her Maid’.  Fortunately, all were recovered a few weeks later in a cottage in County Cork.

Russborough House

 In 1986 the painting was again stolen, this time by a criminal gang from Dublin and unlike the robbery in 1974, it took seven years to recover the painting when it eventually turned up in Antwerp in 1993. By this stage the Beits had donated the painting to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Two other paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland included in the exhibition are two works by Vermeer’s contemporary Gabriel Metsu and entitled ‘Man Writing a Letter’ and its companion piece ‘Woman reading a Letter’. The pair are considered to be Metsu’s finest achievement. Like ‘A Lady Writing a Letter, with her maid’, these works came into the National Gallery of Ireland as a donation from Sir Alfred and Lady Beit and both of which were stolen during both the aforementioned robberies at Russborough House.

There is one very well known  Vermeer masterpiece missing from the exhibition and that is ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ which has stayed in Mauritshuis in The Hague but on the other hand the iconic ‘Milkmaid’ has been loaned out by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The Milkmaid by Vermeer

The exhibition runs until the 22 May 1017 but the crowds have been flocking in such great numbers since the exhibition opened that visitors have had to queue for hours with resulting chaos at the Louvre. Be aware that visitors must obtain a specific time to enter the exhibition but this can be done online in advance. If you miss the exhibition in Paris, not to worry, as it travels to Dublin (without the ‘Milkmaid ‘) in June where it will be on display until the 17th September 2017. After that it makes its final trip to the National Gallery in Washington where it runs from the 22nd October 2017 to the 21st January 2018. Happy St Patrick’s Day!