Having moved from Dublin to Paris over two years ago, I embraced the opportunity to visit the many museums Paris has to offer and I have now become somewhat of a museum junkie. Paris not only has a wealth of world class paintings on permanent display but it also has the ability to attract iconic paintings for temporary exhibitions from world renowned museums and private collections right across the globe. I not only love to see these paintings but I also love to find out something about the artist who painted them, the times they lived in and the circumstances surrounding the execution of the paintings. Somewhere along the way, I began to keep a journal and I discovered how much I enjoyed writing about these museum visits. This interest has led me to blogging so that I can share these experiences with other like minded museum goers or with those who simply like to read about them. I hope my blog, which will have regular posts, is of interest and I would welcome any feed back from potential readers.
Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Gertude Stein has a fascinating history and so I was delighted to come across it at the recent Cubism exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where it is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Picasso first met Gertrude Stein in the early years of the twentieth century when he was still an ambitious but struggling young artist. Stein, for her part, was an American who had inherited enough money to allow her settle in Paris where she became, along with her brother Leo, an avid art collector as well as a writer. The Steins were not afraid to purchase the most daring works of art and the collection they amassed represented the cream of avant grade art emerging in Paris. The paintings lined the walls of their apartment at 27 Rue du Fleurus where Gertrude Stein’s legendary weekly salon attracted the good and the great of both the literary and artistic worlds and so acted like a showcase for the artists. Gertrude and Picasso developed a strong friendship and Stein became invaluable to Picasso not only for her financial aid but also for her belief in what he was doing.
Gertrude Stein was a larger than life character with a physical appearance to match. According to John Richardson in his Life of Picasso, Picasso was sofascinatedby her appearance and personality that he asked to paint her portrait. However, after more than 90 sittings he was dissatisfied with the result and painted out her head saying ‘I can’t see you any longer”. He put the painting aside in May 1906 when he left Paris to spend the summer in Gosol, a remote village in the Catalan Pyrenees. Here Picasso’s style went under a radical change. On his return from Gosol, it is said that he finished the portrait in one afternoon painting Stein’s face with mask like features suggesting an influence from Iberian sculptor. One wonders if his earlier frustrations with the portrait were bound up with an attempt to shake off his old style of painting in order to achieve a fresh pictorial vision. He certainly brought about a new vision in his art and Gertrude Stein’s painting, according to the exhibition ‘marked the end of the artist’s Rose Period and announced the advent of Cubism’.
Standing in front of the painting, the indomitable spirit of Gertrude Stein is tangible. Her image fills the canvas and she leans forward as if to draw you in to her presence. The painting is remarkable and when it was commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso allegedly stated, “Never mind, in the end she will manage to look just like it”. Apparently she did with Gertrude herself stating “For me, it is I.”
In 1900 Pablo Picasso was still only 18 years old but his prodigious talent was already acknowledged so much so that he was selected to represent Spain at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. This was also the year Picasso made his first trip to Paris and between 1900 and 1904 he moved between both Paris and Spain until in 1904 he finally decided to settle in Paris. These years, together with the subsequent two, saw many developments and changes in his style and the exhibition Picasso:Blue and Rose at the Musée D’Orsay is a unique opportunity to follow this evolution. The exhibition brings together a dazzling array of masterpieces from all around the globe giving the visitor a fascinating overview of Picasso’s experimental journey over this six year period.
The changes in styles over the period were radical and the exhibition cleverly presents at the outset three self portraits, below, each reflecting Picasso’s style at the time of their creation.
The first self portrait which he signed Yo, Picasso (I, Picasso), shows a confident, almost arrogant, Picasso at the time of his second trip to Paris in 1901 when he had his first exhibition at the gallery of the influential art dealer Ambrose Vollard and where this self portrait was presented. The second self portrait is clearly a product of his famous Blue Period. This period was influenced by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas which began late in 1901 and lasted until 1904. Picasso’s Rose Period followed and by the end of 1906 he was working with a reduced ochre palette and creating more simplified forms where facial features were reduced to mask like shapes as reflected in his own self portrait of the same year.
In the run up to the Vollard exhibition Picasso was producing a body of work dominated by vibrant colours. Much of his subject matter was taken from Parisian night life but he also harked back to the works of Spain’s Old Masters which he had studied as a teenager in Madrid. In his painting La Naine (or Dwarf Dancer), painted in 1901, Picasso shows his debt to Velazquez (1599-1660), by his choice of subject matter as Velazquez regularly painted the dwarfs at the Court of King Philip IV. However, by 1901, Picasso had freed himself from academic restraints and in La Naine one also sees the influences of the great artists of the modern era such as Degas, Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec. La Naine (or Dwarf Dancer) depicts a ballet dancer, a favourite theme of Degas, in a red tutu who Picasso has set against a dazzling background of yellows, greens and blues executed in broken brush strokes giving an energy to the image despite the somewhat static stance and harsh expression of the dancer.
Another reworked theme by Picasso around this time, and one which had previously been explored by Degas, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh, is the café-goer, either alone or as a couple sitting at a table. In many of his paintings, Picasso showed the café-goer as an absinthe drinker such as the one below, absinthe being a very popular drink in France at the time. In The Absinthe Drinker, 1901, Picasso has chosen to depict the moment when this solitary looking drinker is about to add a cube of sugar to the absinthe drink which sits before her on the table. She appears all dressed up wearing a bright red scarf with matching coloured lipstick yet she cuts a lonely image as she sits alone appearing engrossed in her her own thoughts.
Above from left to right : The Absinthe Drinker, 1901, Private Collection and Seated Harlequin, 1901, The Metropolitan Museum, New York.
The Harlequin character was a well known figure in popular culture in Paris in 1901 and in Seated Harlequin, Picasso has placed him in the café going culture of the time. His Harlequin poses elegantly on a green couch with one hand resting on the seat and the other with elbow resting on the table with fingers posed on his face. His costume is painted in blue and black squares set off with white ruff-like cuffs and collar. Harlequin’s white painted face is turned away from both the table and the viewer and gazes pensively downwards giving a theatrical feel to the image.
Picasso’s exhibition at Vollard’s was considered a success with reviews such as the one in La Justice describing Picasso as ‘offering something novel’ and having ‘gifts of very rare originality’. However, all was not well with Picasso and the suicide of his friend Casagemas in the spring of 1901 haunted him until finally by the autumn he began painting in blue.
Picasso continued painting with a monochromatic palette of shades of blue and blue-green until 1904 reflecting his melancholy at Casagemas death and also the poverty stricken circumstances that he now found himself in. During his Blue Period, Picasso painted scenes of poverty, alienation and misery as is evidenced by the selection below of Blue Period works on show at the exhibition. The viewer cannot but be touched by the sadness of these evocative paintings which Picasso has brilliantly composed.
blind mans meal
Above from left to right, 1. The Crouching Woman, Art Gallery Of Ontario, Canada, 2. TheBlind Man’s Meal, Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York, 3. Mother and Child by the Sea, Palo Museum of Art, Japan, and 4. The Soup, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada.
The culmination of the Blue Period brings us to the monumental canvas of La Vie, painted by Picasso in 1903 in Barcelona. X-rays have shown that it was painted over Last Moments, the painting Picasso exhibited in 1900 at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. No one is sure of its meaning but it has been suggested that it represents the cycle of life with the pregnant woman portraying life and the crouching man in the centre portraying death. The standing man is Casagemas, who by now has been dead for two years, and the cloaked woman on the right appears in many blue period paintings. Does she hold the child that might have been Casagemas’? Whatever the meaning of the painting, it was well received and fortunately for Picasso, who was having little financial success, found an immediate buyer.
In early 1904 Picasso decided to settle in Paris and he took up residence in the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre. The Bateau Lavoir was a run down ramshackle old building but it became an artistic hub attracting painters and poets alike. In this bohemian enclave, the clouds started to lift and Picasso’s palette began to expand to include shades of pink, hailing the dawn of the Rose Period. Also around this time he started a relationship with a model known as Madeline who is the subject matter of Girl in a Chemise, which although dated 1905 was begun in 1904.
Here one can clearly see the blurring of the Blue and Rose Periods with the blue background including shades of brown and the model’s flesh and lips tinged with pink. Over the next two years not only would Picasso switch from predominantly painting in shades of blue to pink, he would also move away from the sombre themes of the Blue Period, to lighter ones mainly that of the circus. These circus scenes generally captured not the moment of performance but rather the private introspective moments of the lives of the performers as can be noted in the two images below Family Of Acrobats with Monkey and Young Acrobat balancing on a Ball.
As 1905 became 1906, there was a further shift in Picasso’s work with his figures becoming more sculptural. This nod to ‘classicism’ was probably inspired by Ingres whose work had appeared at the Salon d’Automne of 1905. Boy Leading a Horse is a wonderful example of this new shift to a modern vision of classicism, a painting whose meaning is unclear but whose impact is striking. Other influences began to pervade Picasso’s work such as the archaic Iberian sculpture he saw in the Louvre as well as his interest in primitive art. Cezanne’s influence also becomes apparent especially his stocky figures from his Bathers series. Picasso’s palette also began to shift with a move towards ochre tones particularly following his four month trip from May to August 1906 to Gosol, a remote village in the Catalan Pyrenees. Here, away from Paris, he began to truly experiment in a quest for a new pictorial vision and he drew on these influences to create a radical change in style. He also drew inspiration from his girlfriend Fernande Olivier who accompanied him on the trip and who appears in many of his paintings of this period.
The exhibition ends with Two Nudes which was painted in the autumn/winter of 1906 after Picasso’s return from Gosol and demonstrates the ground breaking results of Picasso’s experiments over the previous six years. Here the monumentality of the figures, inspired by the stocky figures of Cezanne’s bathers, compares sharply with the waif like figures of earlier works. The facial features of the nude on the left have taken on the form of a mask as inspired by Picasso’s interest in primitive art. The figure on the right is strange with her breast oddly positioned. Again, the meaning of the painting is not known but with it Picasso heralds his new pictorial vision and is on his way to becoming one of the greatest artist of the twentieth century. He is only 25 years old.
This truly is an amazing exhibition giving the viewer a rare opportunity to see some of Picasso’s best works over this six year period. The images included here do not do justice to the works and for a true appreciation of these masterpieces a visit to the exhibition is a must. It runs until the 6th January 2019 at the Musée D’Orsay, Paris and then it moves to Foundation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland from 3rd February until 26th May 2019.
Mary Cassatt, who has been described as one of ‘Les Trois Grandes Dames” of impressionism, has the distinction of being the only American to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1844 to a well off family but it was during an extended trip to Europe, including Paris, while still a child that she discovered art. Having decided to become a professional artist, she attended Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts but disappointed with the attitude and training here, she moved to Paris in 1866 to continue her studies, despite opposition from her parents As woman were still banned from attending the prestigious École des Beaux Arts, she studied privately with some of the leading artists of the day. Her first success with the Paris Salon was in 1868 when, A Mandoline Player, a painting executed in an academic style and on loan to the exhibition from a Private Collection, was accepted for exhibition by the jury. However, she eventually became disilliusioned with the Salon and the academic art they preferred and in 1875, when she first saw the work of Edgar Degas, she is quoted as saying ‘ It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it”. So in 1877 when she was invited by Degas to exhibit at the Impressionist exhibition, she jumped at the chance. One of her masterpieces from this period is LittleGirl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, National Gallery of Art Washington, a compelling piece of work which stood out in the first room of the exhibition. The blue of the four easy chairs which take up a large portion of the canvas is striking and captivating. The little girl is shown flopped on one of the chairs while a little dog sleeps on the one next to her, all depicting a cosy domestic interior. It has now come to light, following infrared photography, that Degas contributed to the painting.
Degas and Cassatt developed a close friendship and they could often be seen at the Louvre studying art together. They had a lot in common, both being from affluent backgrounds, well educated, both interested in figurative painting and both remaining unmarried. They had studios near each other and they advised and encouraged each other. Degas painted Cassatt’s portrait (left) in 1877, now in the National Gallery, Washington, and although she hung it in her studio she found the painting ‘repugnant’. Degas paints her leaning over looking at the cards she holds in her hands and this painting contrasts sharply with the pose she adopts for her own self portrait, (which were rare), which she painted around the same time and in which she appears to wear the same outfit. In her self portrait (right) from the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, which is sketchily executed, she sits upright and presents herself as a professional artist and elegantly dressed woman.
Mary Cassatt came from a francophile family, her father being descended from a French Huguenot family who settled in America in 1642 and her mother spoke fluent French. So it was no surprise then that, three years after Mary settled in Paris, her parents together with her sister Lydia moved to join her in 1877. Mary was very close to her sister Lydia and she became the subject of many of her paintings. The Cup of Tea, c 1880/1881, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum, New York, depicts Lydia dressed in fashionable clothes celebrating both sisters love of fashion. In the painting, Lydia wears a stunning pink dress whose magnificent white ruff matches the cuffs of her dress and long gloves. Here Lydia is taking part in the very fashionable social ritual of tea drinking and she is depicted elegantly holding a cup. Unfortunately, Lydia suffered from a kidney disease and died prematurely in 1882 aged 45 leaving Mary deeply affected.
The exhibit also displays a portrait, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, of her older brother, Alexander J. Cassat with his son Robert, which was executed whilst on a trip to Paris in 1884. Cassat shows the sitters with serious expressions and dressed in black but she softens the view by depicting her nephew sitting casually on the arm of his fathers chair with his arm around his neck. Alexander was a very successful business man becoming president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and on his death was one of the richest man in America. He was proud of his sisters success and due to her influence he became a collector of impressionist work.
By 1894 Cassatt had bought Chateau de Beaufresne, a cottage about 50 miles north west of Paris where she was visited by many of her artist friends and where she would remain until her death in 1926. There was a small pond on the grounds and it is probably this pond that features in the painting Summertime, 1894, Terra Foundation for the Arts, Chicago, which shows a woman and young girl on a boat in the lake. Equal importance is given both to the figures and the landscape, unusual for Cassat who liked to concentrate on her figures. Cassatt uses red, orange, blue and green brushstrokes to create a rippling effect on the water and the result is stunning. The two figures on the boat gaze at the duck passing by and the whole scene evokes the image of a leisurely peaceful summer’s day.
Mary Cassatt’s became famous for her figure paintings, particularly of woman in domestic scenes and especially mothers with their children. The last room of the exhibition displays several works with this signature theme of ‘Mother and Child’ which Cassatt is so identified with and which can be seen as modern versions of the Virgin Mary and Child. Seated Woman with a Child in Her Arms, c 1890, Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts, is extremely tender in its depiction of a boy in his mothers arms as he rests his head on his arm which in turn rests on her shoulder. The mother, who is seated at a table with a pitcher and washbasin, has her back is to us and she seems preoccupied with some task. The tenderness of the scene is accentuated by the beautiful tones of pink and blue used by Cassatt.
This last room also displays Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror),c 1899, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which was purchased by the Havemeyers, and who referred to it as ‘The Florentine Madonna”. The reference to the Virgin Mary and Child is clear from the the contrapposto stance of the young boy and in the oval mirror behind him which acts as a halo.
The exhibition is a great tribute to Mary Cassatt and as well as the works referred to above, it also highlights her interest in the creative process and the experimental nature of her work. It shows her as a modern independent woman who advocated equal rights for women and she was a revelation to me.
It is fascinating to think, that at age 74, Camille Corot (1796-1875), renowned for his landscape paintings, created ‘Interrupted Reading’ left, a masterpiece of figure painting. Corot was single minded about painting, declaring as a young man that ‘I have only one goal…in life : to make landscapes. This firm resolution keeps me from a serious attachment…. marriage..’. Indeed, Corot remained true to his word – he never married and he went on to specialise in landscapes, the real hallmark of his career. Yet, as he grew older, he produced more and more figure paintings which he almost never exhibited but many of which were found in his studio on his death. It is this aspect of his work that the exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet explores and demonstrates, how in the last years of his career, Corot’s figures gained ‘in freedom and ambition’.
Of course, he did produce figure paintings early on in his career but these were mainly small portraits for an intimate circle of family and friends and not for exhibition. He also undertook figure painting on his various educational trips to Italy but again these were more as models to be used in his landscape paintings. In fact, whilst in Italy in 1843, he painted ‘Marietta’, below, a nude painting which he was very proud of and kept hanging
in his studio. In the mid 1850s, when the artist was in his sixties, he went on to create several more nudes in an effort to show that he was capable of painting more than just landscapes. One such painting, ‘Repose’, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington was exhibited by Corot at the Salon of 1861. It depicts a nude woman lying on the grass with her head turned towards the viewer. Although there is a classical feel to the setting, like ‘Marietta’, the model herself is painted in a realist manner giving the painting a more modern feel.
Starting in the mid to late 1850s, Corot started to paint several series of figure paintings such as women at fountains, women in Greek or Italian dress, women reading and even a series of monks, a rare inclusion of the male figure in his figure paintings.
Above left, is an example from Corot’s series of woman depicted in greek costumes and is entitled ‘Greek Girl’, 1870, and on loan from the The Shelburne Museum, Vermont. It is a tender portrayal of a young girl whose pale costume is enlivened by a red belt and a red headscarf which hangs down her back. Her dark eyes are hypnotic and like so many of Corot’s figure paintings, she appears melancholic. Another popular subject matter for Corot were women reading, an example of which is shown above right, ‘Woman reading in the Countryside’, 1869-1870 which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum New York. This was one of the few figure paintings that Corot exhibited at the Salon and here Corot combines figure painting with landscape painting. Although this is a small painting the figure has a monumental feel to it.
Corot started sketching monks as far back as his first visit to Italy in 1824-1826 and it was a theme he continued right throughout his life. Corot did not usually include men in his figure paintings so his series of monk paintings together with his men in armour series, are an exception in his oeuvre. The monk is usually depicted as a solitary figure often reading or as in the painting above left, playing the cello. This painting, on loan from the Hamburger Kunsthalle, was Corot’s last painting. The painting on the right, ‘Sitting Monk Reading’1850-1855, Louvre, shows a monk totally absorbed in his reading and the painting is executed in a mixture of silvery whites and greys. Corot’s monks appear detached from the world and it has been suggested that they represent the solitary road Corot chose when he resolved to stay single for the sake of his art.
Leonardo da Vinci was Corot’s favourite painter and it is clear to see that Corot’s “Woman with a Pearl’ 1868-70, Louvre, is his take on the Mona Lisa. Corot’s model takes up the same three quarter profile as the Mona Lisa with her hands crossed and resting on her lap. Corot does leave the background blank unlike the Mona Lisa who is set against a landscape.
The exhibition ends with what it describes as Corot’s supreme masterpiece ‘Lady in Blue’, 1874 and on loan from the Louvre. It shows a lady dressed in a magnificent blue dress leaning on a luxurious cushion whose pose allows us to admire the back of her dress with its fashionable bustle. This was Corot’s final figure painting and was, like most of his figure paintings, never exhibited during his life. It was finally presented to the public at the 1900 Universelle Exhibition, 25 years after Corot’s death where it caused a sensation. It is true that Corot didn’t give as much importance, certainly in his younger years, to figure paintings but despite this his output of figure painting is now considered to be the most modern of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together about 60 of these works and is a great opportunity to see the more private side of Corot and his remarkable figure paintings.
Andre Derain (1880-1954) is well known as an avant garde artist at the beginning of the 20th century and it is this period of his life that the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre concentrates on, as is evident from it’s title ‘André Derain, 1904-1914, The Radical Decade’. The exhibition leads the visitor through the various stages of Derain’s artistic development and differing styles from this decade, from his early days painting around his hometown, Chatou just outside Paris with the artist Maurice de Vlaminck, to his fauvist days in Collioure with Henri Matisse, on to his own style of cubism which developed during the course of his friendship with Pablo Picasso and then to his period described in the exhibition as magic realism. After this, Derain’s artistic career was interrupted by the First World War. After the war, Derain returned to a more traditional style of painting which led many to view him negatively in so far as he no longer strove to develop a more radical approach to art. However, there is a clue to his swing back to traditional art in the first painting at the exhibition, ‘The Carrying of the Cross’, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Bern, a copy of a painting by the Renaissance artist Baguio d’Antonio ( 1446-1516) which Derain painted in 1901, aged 21, when he spent time copying the Old Masters in the Louvre. Expecting to see radical art, I was startled to see this painting on entering the exhibition puzzled as to how this very traditional painting fitted in with radical art from the early 20th century. But before his ‘radical’ years this was what the 21 year old Derain was interested in and maybe it should be no surprise that after the experiments of his avant garde period, Derain returned to a form of art that he loved.
The exhibition doesn’t concern itself with Derain’s later more traditionally influenced art but highlights his contribution to the avant garde movements before the First World War. Derain started painting when he was still a teenager but it was only after his military service from 1901-1904 that he abandoned his career as an engineer and concentrated solely on an artistic career.
The exhibition groups paintings in chronological order and Room 2 displays works from the period 1904-1905 when, after his military service, Derain rented a studio with Vlaminck at Chatou during which time he painted bright colourful paintings of the surrounding countryside such as ‘Le Pecq, Winter’, 1904-1905 and on loan from the Cincinnati Art Museum (above). The next room shows paintings from the summer of 1905, one of the most famous periods in Derain’s career when he spent six weeks with Henri Matisse in Collioure in the south of France. Under the inspiration of the Mediterranean light, the two artist’s painted experimental works using vivid unnatural colours to produce works that saw the beginning of Fauvism such as ‘The Drying Sails’, 1905, (below) on loan from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, a painting which is a wonderful example of the effect of the Mediterranean light.
Although ridiculed by the critics for this new radical approach to art, Andre Derain had made a name for himself and he was commissioned by the dealer Ambroise Vollard to go to London to paint a series of cityscapes as Vollard had seen the success that Claude Monet’s views of London’s had brought a few years earlier. Room 6 at the exhibition displays several of these London scenes including the one below of London Bridge painted in 1906 and on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Derain found London dull but with his new approach to colour and technique he presented London in a very fresh and radical way and these paintings were and still remain a very popular part of his œuvre.
Like many artists of the day, Derain was hugely influenced by Paul Cezanne and in particular his ‘Bathers’ compositions. Between 1907 and 1908, Derain, Matisse and Picasso inspired and drove each other to produce great works of art based on this theme. The two large bathing scenes by Derain at the exhibition were the highlight for me and as one is muted the other is dramatic.
The first one above on the left painted in 1908 from the Prague National Gallery is painted in cool shades and the figures look more sculpted and are grouped closely together in various poses. The one on the right, painted in 1907 from the Museum of Modern Art New York is far more dramatic and the bathers almost look like they are performing some kind of dance. Arising from this period, came the beginnings of cubism but Derain’s form of cubism always kept a sense of realism unlike Picasso.
Room 9 displays works described as ‘Magic Realism’ by the exhibition and includes ‘Le Samedi’, 1914 from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, below left and several portraits such as ‘Le Jeune Fille’, 1914 from the Picasso Museum, Paris, below right.
The exhibition also deals with Derain’s interest in photography as well as the influence that African and Oceanic art had on him ever since he first became fascinated with it following a visit to the British Museum in London whilst painting his cityscapes. The exhibition also includes his famous ‘Dance’ painted in 1906 and concludes with the monumental canvas ‘L’Age d’or, 1938-1944, both of which evoke some kind of mythical landscape.
As a result, the exhibition brings together a very varied body of work and confirm Derain as a truly avant garde artist who veered off on his own path to arrive at his own unique style.
For 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.
There 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Another 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.
Finally, 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, 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.
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 royal 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.
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.
The 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, Rubens 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, 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 12 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. In 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.
By 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!
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’.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Pissarro 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 :
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.
Pissarro’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.
And 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).