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!


Art on International Women’s Day 2017

Alicia Koplowitz


It’s International Women’s Day and what better way to mark it than by viewing works of art from the collection of the very impressive Spanish business women, Alicia Koplowitz, now on view at the new exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André entitled ´From Zurbarán to Rothko, Alice Koplowitz Collection – Grupo Omega Capital.  Koplowitz , along with her sister, inherited her father’s construction firm and although she subsequently sold her share in 1997, by 2013 she was named as the richest woman in Spain by Forbes. She is currently president of Grupo Omega Capital.  Koplowitz started collecting art at the age of 17 and her collection is now considered to be one of the finest in Europe. Fifty- three of the highlights from the collection are currently on display at the Musée Jacquemart-André.


Countess of Haro by Goya

The collection reflects the personal taste of Koplowitz and includes works from both Old and Modern Masters but her leaning for female portraits is evident. Given the day that it is in it, I have chosen to focus on this

Painting by Van Donegal

aspect of the exhibition in the paintings I have included but there are many other genres to the collection ranging from a still life by Van Gogh to a large abstract painting by Mark Rothko. Known to lead a very private life, this is the first time that Koplowitz’s collection has gone on view to the public and it is fitting that the Musée Jacquemart-André is the venue given that it is the former home of the couple Édouard André and Nellie Jacquemart, passionate art collectors from another era.



Picasso, Matisse, Braque among those featuring at the new exhibition at the Musée Maillol

I have just come from visiting a fascinating exhibition at the Musée Maillol with its combination of art and history from the first half of the twentieth century revolving around the art dealer Paul Rosenberg, 1881-1953.

Paul Rosenberg
The exhibition entitled ’21 rue La Boétie’ is based on the book of the same name by Anne Sinclair, journalist and granddaughter of Rosenberg and it brings together over 60 masterpieces associated with Rosenberg many of which were shown in his gallery at 21 rue la Boétie. Rosenberg had a remarkable eye and passion for art and as a result he represented many of the avant garde artists of his day such as Picasso, Matisse, Léger, Braque with many of whom he developed close friendships . This was particularly true of Picasso who actually moved into 23 rue la Boétie in 1918 which allowed Rosenberg to be the first to see many of Picasso’s latest works. The gallery was a hub for these artists and during it’s  Golden Age, Rosenberg held many exhibitions to promote their groundbreaking work.

Woman in Blue by Matisse
However, this all came to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War and Rosenberg, being Jewish, fled  to New York with his family. Prior to the war, Rosenberg had managed to ship many of his paintings abroad and before he departed for America he deposited the rest in a bank. Unfortunately, these were found and looted by the Nazis and in fact the gallery at 21 rue la Boétie was transformed, ironically, by the Nazis into the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question. Rosenberg very quickly set up at a gallery in New York and although he remained there after the war, he set about tirelessly trying to recover the works looted by the Nazis. This effort continues today by his family and with one of the success stories on display at the exhibition,  ‘Woman in Blue in front of a Fireplace’ by Matisse which was only recently returned to the family in 2014 having been spotted by Anne Sinclair at an exhibition in the Centre Pompidou. 

Madame Rosenberg by Picasso
One of the first paintings to greet you at the beginning of the tour was also looted by the Nazis, this being the ‘Portrait of Madame Rosenberg and her daughter’ painted by Picasso in 1918 in the neoclassical style he had returned to after the First World War.

Male and Female Bathers by Picasso
Another painting by Picasso, but in a very different style,  which was again looted by the  Nazis and appears in the exhibition is ‘Male and Female Bathers’.

Of course the exhibition includes paintings that escaped the Nazis such as the remarkable painting by Édouard Manet entitled ‘Young Woman in Oriental Garb’, also known as ‘The Sultana’. This luckily had been shipped to America just before the war broke out.

The Sultana by Manet
The exhibition ends with an adorable small portrait of Anne Sinclair which was painted by the artist Marie Laurencin when Sinclair was just four years old.

Anne Sinclair by Matisse
Laurencin was the first artist to sign a contract with Rosenberg in 1913 and she was well known for her society portraits having painted for example, Coco Chanel.

The exhibion, which runs until the 23rd July, is at the Musée Maillol, a small museum located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.

Café des Frères Prévert 
Although small, the museum benefits from a coffee shop, Café des Frères Prévert, with a lovely setting in the vaulted cellars of the museum. However, if you want to escape the confines of the museum, they are lots of lovely coffee shops and brasseries in the vicinity. And for wine lovers there is a great wine shop just around the corner, Ryst-Dupeyron. For shoppers, Paris’ oldest department store, the legendary Le Bon Marché is only five minutes walk.

Claude Monet: From Sunrise at the Musée Marmottan Monet to Sunset at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

I have been living in Paris for over two years now and I still get excited to think that I can stroll to the Musée Marmottan Monet within ten minutes and see the painting which gave it’s name to Impressionism. This painting is of course Claude Monet’s ‘Impression, soleil levant’ (Impression, Sunrise), a beautiful painting executed by Monet in 1872. The subject is the port of Le Harve where Monet had moved when he was a child. It is dawn and the scene is hazy except for the ball of red-orange sun which has started to rise over the port and whose rays are reflected in the motionless water. The viewer is drawn to this red-orange sun ball which stands out against the greyer hues of the rest of the painting. The viewer is further drawn to the small row boats in the foreground the most prominent of which seems to have two figures on board. The rest of the scene which is of the industrialised port seems to fade into the background. The whole effect of the painting is both calm and eerie and despite the industrial setting  of the painting, there is still a sort of beauty about it.

Impression, soleil levant, 1872 by Claude Monet
Claude Monet (1840-1926)  was part of a group of artists who turned their backs on academic painting  which they found restrictive and who instead preferred to paint ordinary everyday subjects often ‘en plein air’ i.e. outdoors. Academic art was more concerned with historical and religious subjects painted in clear lines and contours giving a realistic and fine finish. This was in stark contrast to this new group of artists  whose paintings captured the moment, ignoring linear perspective to portray an impression of the subject. These artists lightened their palettes again in strong contrast to academic art which preferred sombre tones. The academic establishment did not approve of this new style of painting considering the works incomplete and mere sketches. As this esatablishment controlled the Salons (the only way an artist could have his worked viewed), their works were usually rejected by them. Eventually, in 1873 the artists formed a group calling itself The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers and began exhibiting their own paintings in opposition to the official Salons. Monet’s painting, Impression, soleil levant was shown at the group’s first exhibition held in 1874  where it was ridiculed by the critics. In this vein the critic, Louis Leroy referred to the painting  mockingly as ‘Impressionism’ and the name stuck. Little did Leroy realise that he had coined the name for one of the most famous art movements ever!

Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect, 1880 by Claude Monet

And then, I discovered by chance whilst strolling through the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de La Ville de Paris, Monet’s ‘Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect) . I had never heard of this painting but I found it  amazing that on my doorstep there was one museum exhibiting Monet’s famous Sunrise and a different museum showing one of his Sunsets. This particular sunset was painted by Monet in 1880 in Vétheuil where he had been living with his family since 1878. The winter of 1879/1880 was one of the harshest in history  with the Seine freezing over. Monet painted over 20 canvases of the changing scenes caused by this weather spell. One of these was Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect. Lavacourt was a village situated on the opposite side of the Seine to Vétheuil and in winter the sun set behind it. The setting sun on a winters day and all its effect is the subject matter of the painting.The painting has a similar red-orange sun as Impression, soleil levant but the painting is less hazy and eerie in its overall effect. This painting didn’t produce the name for an art movement like Impression,soleil levant did, but it is also a beautiful painting and it is well worth complementing a visit to the Musée Marmottan Monet with a visit to the Petit Palais to view these two paintings on the one day!

Musée Marmottan Monet
Entry to the Musée Marmottan Monet is €11 for an adult so it might be a bit extravagant to visit just to view one painting. So you can take your time at the Musée Marmottan Monet as it is a very interesting museum. It was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 19th century and ultimately purchased by Jules Marmottan who left it to his son Paul, an avid art collector. On his death Paul Marmottan left the mansion to the Académie des Beaux-Arts who opened it up as a museum. The museum was further enhanced in 1966 when Monet’s son Michel donated his own collection of his fathers works to the museum resulting in the museum owning the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world including some amazing lilies  which can still be viewed here today. The museum collection also includes a large body of work by Berthe Morisot the female french impressionist.

Café at the Petit Palais
There is no coffee shop at the museum so when you are finished your visit and you want to see both Monet’s Sunrise and Sunset on the same day, head straight to the Petit Palais where there is a lovely café in the heart of the museum which opens onto a tranquil courtyard and garden complete with colonnades. Entry to the Petit Palais is free so after coffee or lunch, you can simply seek out Monet’s Soleil Couchant (Sunset) and complete the tour!