Pop Art explained at the Musée Maillol

43948A0A-3E48-490B-808B-B9FEC69A0649For an interesting overview on Pop Art, head to the Musée Maillol on rue de Grenelle, Paris where over 60 works, on loan from the Whitney Museum, New York, are displayed in an exhibition entitled ‘Pop Art – Icons that matter’. Although I am not a fan of Pop Art, I found the exhibition interesting in it’s explanation of the development and rise of Pop Art in 1960s America. One is reminded that Pop Art was conceived in a very different era to ours, one where there was a spectacular rise in consumerism and mass production of goods. Artists reacted to this environment of mass culture by representing ordinary everyday objects and iconic figures of their time in their art, drawing inspiration for their subject matter from the barrage of  images which surrounded the consumer on billboards, advertising campaigns and comic books. Furthermore, this new generation of ‘pop’ artists reacted to the Abstract Expressionist movement of the previous generation, a movement which had dominated the art world in America in the 1950s. Abstract expressionists whose inspiration arose from the unconscious self, painted in a very personal style whereas ‘pop’ artists wanted to represent ‘popular culture’ and not their own feelings.

9DC252B9-705C-4C2D-BE53-23BEFF2033E2There are 24 artists represented at the exhibition but the opening work is by one of the era’s leading figures, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997). The painting ‘Girl in the Window’ is immediately recognisable as a work by Lichtenstein who was well known for his use of comic book images in his art. The painting is typical of his style in its use of blocks of primary colours of red, yellow and blue and black outlines together with the application of Ben Day dots, an application which uses dots spaced in a way to create different shading and colour effects. The painting shows a smiling girl leaning out of a window with her hair blowing in the wind and it is an engaging and up beat image.

6B1C7138-F5AD-458E-BAAE-5453FE7EDADDThe next work that really caught my attention was ‘Madonna and Child’ by Allan D’Arcangelo ( 1930-1998) which is a painting of Jackie Kennedy and her daughter Caroline who are immediately recognisable by virtue of their clothes, hairstyles and Jackie’s pearls despite the fact that their faces are blank. Pop artists regularly used images of iconic figures of their time in their work and Jackie Kennedy was one such figure. I loved this painting for its simplicity yet powerful imagery depicting the First Lady and her daughter with halos, using an age-old religious theme of Madonna and Child to highlight contemporary icons. There was something a bit sad about the painting with their blank faces somehow suggesting a meaningless to their lives and this life of mass culture.

AE7FE8CE-C6A0-4171-BBAC-12CA55E7B920The nude, of course, has been depicted by artists from all eras from the lofty Venus’ of the Renaissance to Manet’s realist masterpiece ‘Olympia’, 1863. Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004) tackled this subject during the Pop Art era in a series entitled ‘Great American Nudes’ which is a series of 100 paintings executed between 1961 and 1973. Great American Nude #57, displayed at the exhibition is a dramatic piece showing a reclining nude with yellow blonde hair, a blank face except for bright red lips, bikini marks and exaggerated nipples, all very typical of Wesselmann’s nudes. Wesselman did not like to be labelled as a pop artist but his vibrant flat colours, billboard like feel to his paintings and the use of images from American popular culture have led to his inclusion in this group.

E6E67B19-7D9A-4012-A13A-CF21271E06EAAnother iconic figure of the era to feature in Pop Art was Marilyn Monroe and the depiction of her in Rosayln Drexler’s (born 1926) work called ‘Marilyn pursued by Death’, 1963, is striking. It is acrylic and paper collage on canvas, a medium frequently used by Drexler who was one of the few female pop artists to gain recognition. The two figures in the work are not placed in the centre but instead appear to the right with Marilyn running and being followed by a man who is running behind her as if shadowing her, suggesting that there is no escape from her unhappy destiny. The figures are outlined together in orange, both wearing sunglasses despite being set against a black background, all giving an uneasy feel to the whole scene.

F55E73FC-98C6-46AB-B00E-A7865DFCB8F0Finally, no exhibition on Pop Art would be complete without the inclusion of one of the movements most iconic figures, Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Warhol was famous for producing several repetitions of an image in one installation,  most famously his campbell soup cans. The exhibition includes his ‘Nine Jackies’, an acrylic, oil and screenprint on linen, with three rows of images, each row containing three repetitions of the same image of Jackie Kennedy all associated with the assassination of her husband. It is a poignant piece with the first three images showing a happy Jackie just before the assassination , the second row showing her during the funeral and the final row showing unguarded emotion during the swearing in of Johnson as the new president.

I still find Pop Art rather cold and lacking in beauty but the exhibition did a good job of explaining Pop Art against the backdrop of it’s era and I certainly have a better understanding and appreciation of it. For this reason, I found my visit to the exhibition worthwhile.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens at the Luxembourg Museum

 

1CF6088D-1186-4FAC-8CE8-40A5FDF0ED48Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish baroque painter is renowned for his mythological and religious paintings but it is his less well known body of work, his portraits of members of the Royal houses of Europe, that is showcased at the current exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg, “Rubens: Princely Portraits”. Rubens’ training as a page during his adolescent years coupled with his charming personality and learned way made him an ideal candidate to move among the Royal courts of Europe. He was much admired by Kings, Queen’s, Princes and Princesses for his artistic talents but these Royals also appeared to have been at ease in his company and went on to show great faith in him by employing him not only as an artist but, from time to time, as a diplomat.

 

The first Court that Rubens went to work for, aged 23, was that of the Duke of Mantua in Italy where the Gonzaga family had been in power for several centuries. The Duke of Mantua was a great patron of the arts and during Rubens’ time at his court, he painted several portraits of the Duke’s children some of which are shown at the exhibition. The one that stands out is that of his fourth child, Vincent II of Gonzaga (above left ) who would go on to become the seventh Duke of Mantua. Although only around 12, the young Vincent is wearing a coat of armour which stands out brilliantly against a dark background and a beautiful white silky collar. The sitters eyes and facial expression look as if he is about to move towards you. There is also a cute portrait of the Duke’s daughter, Éléonore, aged 2 (above top right) who would go on to become an Empress together with a portrait of the Duke’s second son, Ferdinand (above bottom right). It was during his service to the Duke of Mantua that Rubens was entrusted with his first diplomatic trip when he was sent to Spain bearing gifts for king Philip III of Spain and his court which, despite many hazards, was a success due to Rubens tact and patience.

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In late 1608, now in his early thirties, Rubens returned to Antwerp, which along with the rest of the Netherlands, had been subjected to religious wars for many years between the catholic Spanish Netherlands ( basically modern day Belgium) and the Protestant Dutch Republic ( basically today’s Netherlands ). In fact Rubens’ father was a Calvinist who had to flee Antwerp in 1568 with his family due to the persecution of Protestants. After his father’s death the family returned to Antwerp where Rubens was raised as a Catholic. This, no doubt, had an influence on Rubens’ willingness to undertake peace missions as he hoped all his life for a resolution to the conflict between the protestants of the Dutch Republic and the catholics of the Spanish Netherlands. The Archduke Albert and the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenie ruled the Spanish Netherlands on behalf of Spain and on Rubens’ return, they persuaded him to enter their service. The exhibition includes serveral portraits of the couple but I have included two very different paintings by Rubens of the archduchess. The first, above, is a very formal portrait which Rubens executed in partnership with his friend, the renowned landscape artist, Jan Brueghel the elder. Rubens painted the archduchess in full 15849352-CFC9-41F7-B522-A77D824FD522royal attire and Brueghel painted the residence which was the royal couple’s country retreat at Mariemont. The second, right, is my preferred, showing a very differently dressed Archduchess who now wears a nun’s habit as following the death of her husband in 1621, she joined a religious order as a lay person. This second portrait shows a kind of intimacy between the painter and sitter which reflects the close relationship Rubens enjoyed with the Archduchess who like his previous employers entrusted him with diplomatic missions to Spain at a time when Spain was seeking a diplomatic solution between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic.

 

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At this time Philip IV was King of Spain and whilst Rubens was visiting, the King commissioned him to paint some portraits. Not only was the King impressed with Rubens but so too was the official court painter, Velázquez. The above equestrian portrait of King Philip IV showing at the exhibition and on loan from the Uffizi Gallery, Florence is in fact attributed to Velázquez but was inspired by an equestrian portrait by Rubens which once hung in the Kings’s palace but which is today lost. The influence of Rubens is clear as the scene is full of colour, drama and storytelling with three figures flying over the head of the King. Like other Royals of Europe, King Philip sent Rubens on a diplomatic mission, this time to England in an effort to negotiate peace between the two countries at a time following the failed attack of the Spanish Armada on England. King Charles I warmly received Rubens and although there is no portrait of the King at the exhibition, the self portrait of Rubens at the top was owned by the King of England and is on loan to the exhibition from the Royal collections of England. The portrait does not show Rubens with his brushes and palette which was more typical of self portraits at the time but Rubens instead chose to depict himself as a diplomat with the gold necklace around his neck referring to his role as a diplomat.
73119BD9-1D1D-410C-8DA2-D9C37CB74830The othe major Court to engage Rubens was France from whom he received a commission from Marie de Medici, Queen Mother of France to paint the Medici Cycle, a monumental allegorical cycle depicting the life of the Queen and her family which is now hanging in its own gallery in the Louvre. The exhibition displays several portraits of the Queen but the one on the left was still in Rubens possessions when he died. The background is unfinished and despite the fact that the Queen is formally dressed and sitting regally,  6FC38048-75BF-4819-9A05-EBAD39D1F4A6Rubens still manages to portait her in a very human way. The ability of Rubens to capture the human side of his sitter is even further noticeable in the small intimate portrait Rubens did of the Queens son, King Louis XIII,  also in 1622 and it really gives you the sense of how Rubens must have made his royal sitters so at ease in his company. This painting is unique as it was made from real life face to face with the sitter and the fact that the King gave Rubens this kind of time shows the regard he was held in. It was this type of intimacy with the Royals which allowed Rubens to pursue his diplomatic missions. Contrast that with the splendid portrait of the King and his wife Queen Anne of Austria where there is no mistaking their Royal status. These last two portraits are spectacular, especially that of the King and the colours are as dynamic today as they must have been when first executed.

 

The exhibition demonstrates that Rubens was not only considered to be the greatest portrait painter of his generation but that he was also very involved with the political life of his era. For his diplomatic missions Rubens was knighted twice, first in 1624 by King Philip IV of Spain and in 1630 by King Charles I of England. So if you are like me and you enjoy art mixed up with a bit of history, this exhibition is definitely for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berthe Morisot 

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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 


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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,

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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’.

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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.

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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 .
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.