October 28, 2013

Promenades in Paris - Part I

It is great to be back in Paris.  The weather is gorgeous, maybe even too warm, and there is a lot going on between museum shows and the French art fair FIAC at the Grand Palais.  So I'm going to give you a quick tour of some of the exhibitions I was able to catch during my ten day stay.

Let's start at the Louvre, probably the most famous museum in the world, but we are not going anywhere close to its star attraction!  Rather, we are going to visit two obscure but very interesting special exhibitions that lay the foundation for much of the art we see today.

"Le Printemps de la Renaissance (The Spring of the Renaissance)" looks at the period in history when the style of art and architecture evolved from classic Roman to what we now call Renaissance, or re-birth.  This cultural revolution began in Florence, Italy, at the beginning of the 15th century, with such protagonists as Brunelleschi, Donatello and Lucca della Robbia.  The exhibition focuses on sculpture but there are wonderful examples of frescoes and metal work as well.

In the graphic arts section of the museum is a newly opened show that traces the earliest beginnings of prints and print making in Northern Europe.  50 years before Gutenberg discovered movable text and the printing press, artists and engravers in Cologne were experimenting with various techniques to produce printed images.  This was a major innovation as it allowed the circulation of pictures among many people and as far away as the paper could be carried.

Using materials such as wood blocks or metal, artists and technicians used basically the same tools and techniques as we use today to incise or carve out images to be inked and pressed on paper.  These primitive prints were produced primarily for the publication of religious imagery but for propaganda and licentious material as well.

Now let's move on to the Musée Carnavalet, the official museum of the City of Paris since 1880 and for a limited time the site of a very special exhibition entitled "Roman d'une garde robe (The story of a closet)".  Here we find the remarkable collection of Mademoiselle Alice Alleaume, who, along with her mother Adèle and her sister Hortense, worked in some of the finest couture houses in Paris.  Alice herself was the chief sales lady at the House of Chéruit, 21, place Vendôme from 1912 until 1923 during which time she amassed a superb collection of dresses, shoes, hats and accessories by some of the finest couturiers of the day.

Creations by Worth, Lanvin, Poiret and Demay are beautifully displayed alongside period paintings, prints and documentation that brings to life the elegant world of haute couture in its heydey.

Passing by the special Evelyn Lauder "Pink Ribbon" breast cancer installation at the Hôtel de Sully, we move on to the Place des Vosges and the Maison de Victor Hugo.  Of course, Victor Hugo is best known as one of the greatest writers of the Romantic Period with "Les Miserables" being his most famous work.  But he was also a very accomplished draughtsman and painter and his work is the mainstay of a new exhibition entitled "La cime du rêve (The Pinnacle of the Dream)" a look at how this 19th century writer was adopted by the very 20th century surrealists!

The exhibition features 50 works on paper by Victor Hugo interspersed with drawings, watercolors and paintings by Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, André Masson and his own granddaughter-in-law Valentine Hugo.  Upstairs one can visit the actual apartment where Victor Hugo lived between 1832-1848, furnished as it was during his time and filled with personal mementos.

Let's leave the beautiful Place des Vosges and go way west to the Trocadéro and the Cité de l'architecture & du patrimoine in the Palais de Chaillot.  Here we will visit another new exhibition called "1925 When Art Déco Dazzled the World", a tribute to Modernism and its huge impact on culture from perfume bottles to ocean liners.

The clean, geometric lines of the new Art Déco movement quickly became the dernier cri for artists, designers and architects in France and around the world.  Fashions by Paul Poiret and Patout, buildings by Robert Mallet-Stevens, furniture by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann and décors by Louis Süe and André Mare all endeavored to achieve the Art Déco ideal.  This exhibition is organized by theme - fashion, furniture, the automobile - but given the host museum, the main focus is on architecture.

Finally, let's head back down Avenue President Wilson and along the Seine to the Musée de l'Orangerie where a special exhibition dedicated to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is now on view.  Both Parisians and tourists are queuing up for hours for admission, but we have a special pass that allows us to skip the line and go right in!

"Frida Kahlo / Diego Rivera: Art in Fusion" presents the work of both artists together with the objective to show that they were truly inseparable.  I don't know if that goal was achieved, but it was a very good retrospective of these two major artists' œuvres put in historical perspective.

I think that's enough art museums for one blog so I will leave you with a view of Paris at twilight and a promise to come back soon with Part II of Paris Promenades!

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