June 11, 2016

Paris Program

It's been an interesting time to be in Paris.  Between the Seine nearly overflowing its banks causing the closure of the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre, garbage piled up in mountains due to a slowdown by the collectors and strikes by Air France and the railway, things have been challenging to say the least!

But as they say, c'est la vie, and there are plenty of nice things to see and do no matter what Mother Nature or the unions throw our way.

Like, for instance, a very lovely exhibition at the Musée de Montmartre, a tiny museum housed in the oldest building in Montmartre right next door to the only vineyard left in Paris.  At the turn of the century, Montmartre was a bohemian paradise, home to artists, writers, musicians and performers who enjoyed its low rents and convivial atmosphere.  Picasso, Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec gathered in cafés and dance halls like Le Chat Noir, Le Lapin Agile and the Bateau-Lavoir to be entertained by La Goulue, Aristide Bruant and Jane Avril.

The Museum's permanent collection revolves around this momentous time in the arts and presents a wonderful selection of paintings, drawings, posters, books and ephemera that capture the joie de vivre of the period.  The special exhibition for the summer is "Artistes in Montmartre:  From Steinlen to Satie 1870-1910" and looks at how the district and its ambiance influenced the work of the many artists who lived there.  The exhibit is presented in the former atelier of Suzanne Valadon who lived and worked there, along with her son, the artist Maurice Utrillo, in the early 1900s.

Artists ranging from Impressionists to Symbolists to Cubists converged on the "Butte" to soak up the fantastic light and the creative energy.  Examples of works by Renoir, Bonnard, Ibels, Willette, Rivière, Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec, presented with the avant garde compositions of Erik Satie and the poetry of Max Jacob, bring us back to the beginning of modern art as we know it.

Giorgio de Chirico
"Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire", 1914

A little closer to the Seine is the Musée de l'Orangerie, best known for its fabulous "Water Lily" murals by Claude Monet, but today we are going to visit a special exhibition about the art critic and poet Guillaume Apollinaire.  "Apollinaire:  The Eyes of the Poet" focuses on the fifteen year period when his writings were hugely influential on the nascent modern art movement and its various "isms".

Born Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki in Rome in 1880, he moved to Paris, changed his name and integrated into the artistic community active in Montmartre around the turn of the century.  His innate curiosity and intellect led him to explore the circus, theatre and puppetry and he was an early collector of African art.  But it was his commentary on Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism and Surrealism that influenced the careers of such luminaries as Picasso, Matisse, de Chirico and Derain.  By presenting paintings and literature in thematic groups, "The Eyes of the Poet" demonstrates Apollinaire's profound intellect and influence on the art world until his untimely death from influenza in 1918.

Our last exhibition for today is a survey of the Swiss artist Paul Klee called "Irony at Work" presented by the Centre Pompidou.  While Paul Klee's work is very approachable, almost childlike, in its simplicity, color and size, his paintings and drawings are actually very complex, deliberate and far more meaningful than one would initially think.  This retrospective, the first in France in nearly 50 years, examines the subtle and not so subtle themes that reoccur throughout Klee's work.

Beginning with his early satirical works and continuing through his Bauhaus, Cubist (see below) and Constructivist periods until Hitler's rise to power and the artist's debilitating scleroderma, the exhibition examines who influenced Klee and whom, in turn, he impacted, with his remarkable vision.

Paul Klee
"St. Germain near Tunis (Inland)", 1914
Paul Klee felt that art ought to be a "game with the law" and his work challenged the standards and tenets prevalent at the time.  "Irony at Work" is an interesting new way to look at the marvelous world of Paul Klee.

After a few days, the water level of the Seine has started to recede and the sun has come out so some measure of normalcy has returned.  I will leave you with some more photos of the near catastrophic flood and a promise to return soon with another post from Paris.
Houseboats facing west with the Grand Palais in the background.
Notice the water almost reaching the roof of the building on the left.

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