June 26, 2013

Paris "sous la pluie"

The most popular topic of conversation here in Paris has got to be the miserable spring and summer weather they have been experiencing.  I thought my friends might be exaggerating, but I have to admit, it is depressing.  Daily deluges and chilly temperatures make an umbrella and jacket essential and I almost wish I'd packed my rain boots!

"Reflets et Lumières", 2002
Color etching and aquatint by Lynn Shaler

But rain or shine, Paris is Paris and it is always a pleasure to be here.  I have been actively searching for the last few items for my next catalogue but, of course, I did a little shopping and visited a few museum exhibitions too.

My first stop was at the Louvre where "De l'Allemagne 1800-1939 / German Thought and Painting from Friedrich to Beckmann" was in its final days.  This exhibition has proven far more popular than anticipated perhaps because of the unfamiliarity of French museum-goers with German art, but also partially due to the ongoing press war that has surrounded the show with charges of "Germanophobia" and an attempt to re-write history.

The exhibition is a survey of a century and a half of German art and how it was influenced by the intellectual ideas of the time.  Arranged in three main categories namely Apollo and Dionysius, Nature and Ecce Homo, the works presented tell the story of the German fascination with Classicism, the 19th century's great strides in scientific investigation in the fields of botany, geology, meteorology etc, and finally how industrialism, nationalism and imperialism negatively affected the early 20th century.  It's pretty heavy going and the choices of art and artists represented might not have been the best examples with which to make the case.  One point was made very clearly however, German art, from the Romantics to the Dadaists, was based on thinking, and no nation had more great intellectual thinkers - think Goethe - at that time than Germany.

Simon Hantaï at work, 1989

A short ride on the Métro takes us to the Centre Pompidou and their current special exhibition on the Hungarian artist Simon Hantaï.  Five years after the death of the artist and 37 years since his last retrospective, the show at Pompidou assembles 130 paintings completed between 1949 and the 1990s when he retired from painting.  Considered a master of abstraction, Hantaï's mostly large format works explored pliage comme méthode (folding as a method) as a sort of automatic painting.  Inspired by Jackson Pollack, Hantaï abandoned the easel for the floor where he folded, crushed and sometimes stamped on his canvas' before applying paint.  The result was a free-form image part surreal, part abstract expressionist, and usually quite beautiful.

I have always liked the paintings of Simon Hantaï and was looking forward to this exhibition.  But sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much.  For me, a room full of his pliages with the same basic pattern repeated in various colors, became almost like wallpaper and I left the show rather less enthusiastic for his work.

The last two exhibitions were presented at the Pinacothèque de Paris, located just behind the Madeleine and not far from the fancy Fauchon food shop!  I'm going to reverse the chronological order and start with "Tamara de Lempicka:  Queen of Art Deco" now on view at the Pinacothèque 2.

Born Maria Górska to a wealthy and prominent Warsaw family in 1898, she soon set her sights on a Russian nobleman and married Tadeusz Lempicki by the age of 18.  They escaped to Paris during the Russian Revolution where they were able to eke out an existence through the sale of her jewelry.  After their daughter, Kizette, was born, Tamara de Lempicka, as she became known, supported her family with the sale of her paintings.

Tamara de Lempicka became famous not only for her stylized, geometric paintings, but also for her "liberated" lifestyle.  She moved in the most modern circles in Europe and her society portraits were sought after.  Eventually she left her husband and daughter and moved to the United States where she she married her patron and lover, the Baron Raoul Kuffner von Diószeg in 1934.  The Great Depression had no effect on the "Baroness with a Paintbrush" - she was the favorite painter of  both European royalty and Hollywood starlets and was never without a commission.  After her second husband's death in 1961, she re-located to Texas to be close to her daughter and finally ended up in Mexico where she died in 1980.

Tamara de Lempicka is one of the few artists to see her work come full circle from highly desirable, to out of style, to all the rage again.  This exhibition covers her entire œuvre with an emphasis on her Garçonne, or tomboy, period when she was the epitome of Art Déco style.

Across the street, in the Pinacothèque 1, is "Art Nouveau:  La Révolution décorative", my last stop and my favorite exhibition of this trip.  The Art Nouveau movement was a reaction to classicism and the confines of the Victorian Era.  Organic in form with its free flowing natural lines, Art Nouveau became an all encompassing ideal covering music, painting, furniture, architecture, decoration and advertising.

On display are over 200 objects ranging from Gallé glass to Mucha posters, from Lalique jewelry to Majorelle furniture that reflect the aesthetic of the Art Nouveau style.  Each item is representative of the exquisite beauty and refined elegance of this new art form.  Although ultimately squashed by World War I and the modernism of Art Déco, the Art Nouveau movement was revolutionary in its time and its objets d'art remain highly desirable to this day.

This has been a more complicated visit to Paris than most, what with the dreadful weather and especially the untimely passing of one of my most esteemed colleagues whose funeral I attended at St. Germain des Prés a few days ago.  Nevertheless, I am always happy to be in this beautiful city and look forward to returning in the fall.  A très bientôt!

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