My June apartment is in the classy 5ème arrondissement, but on the edge of the less prestigious 13ème. Prestigious or not, the 13ème has an astonishing variety of street art, including more than thirty wall frescoes along Boulevard Vincent Auriol that were just inaugurated a few days ago. Honestly, you’ll get a better look at that last link, but here are a few that I liked during a walk on Saturday evening.
The Musée Marmottan Monet is a bit of a hodge-podge. Marmottan, father and son, collected medieval and Renaissance art, post-Revolutionary art and furniture, and lots of other stuff. The son willed the property to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, under which many donations were accepted, most significantly quite a few works of Claude Monet, donated by his son, Michel. The problem as I see it is that the best work by Monet had already been scooped up by other museums, notably the Musée d’Orsay, leaving lesser or more personal works for this museum; the main reason to visit it is if you’re interested in an exhibition. Eugène and I wanted to see their current exhibition, “Oriental Visions, From Dreams Into Light,” so we headed over on Saturday afternoon. It was worth a look, and I also enjoyed a few items from the permanent collection. First and foremost were two paintings by Ingres.
There were lots of other bathing beauties, which felt derivative and repetitive, but Eugène pointed out the amusing caption on the “fantasy scene” shown below: “No woman, not even a prostitute, would show herself this way in the street, smiling seductively, with her breasts on display.”
I did quite like these two paintings, both of which show mastery in their portrayal of sun and shade:
Many of the paintings depicted Morocco or Algeria, which aren’t to my way of thinking “oriental,” but Eugène explained that the term is being used to refer to anything exotically foreign.
It said something, however, that my favorite painting in the exhibition was the one below, which bears no resemblance — except in its title –to anything else in the exhibition.
The only Monet in the permanent collection that attracted my attention on this visit is this one, which I also added to my Impressionism Far and Near photo set.
The museum does have a nice room of paintings by Berthe Morisot, who is also the subject of a show that opens this Tuesday at the Musée d’Orsay. This portrait particularly caught my eye:
On the way back to the métro Eugène and I had a refreshing drink at La Gare and a couple of tasty ice creams at a roadside stand.
The Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris had an exhibition that was ending soon, so I went to see it on Thursday. It proved to be a lot of fun!
Ôtsu turns out to be a town near Kyoto on the famous Tôkaidô road from Edo (now Tokyo). From the early 17th century through the mid-19th century the town specialized in selling small humorous images to travelers. Over the centuries Ôtsu developed a suite of standardized characters, who became known throughout Japan, and have found there way into Ukiyo-e prints and other fine art as well as the popular imagination.
The most typical character is a demon dressed as a monk, invoking the Buddah Amida.
Also common are the god of longevity and the god of luck.
Finally, here are a couple of images of the whole rogues gallery.
I see links between these characters and contemporary manga, as well as with some of the outsider art I saw earlier in the week.
After the gallery, I had a delicious light lunch at the Japanese café in the museum.
More rain was forecast for Tuesday, so I headed over to the Musée du quai Branly, which is now called the even more tounge-twisty Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac; anything but what it actually is: the (gasp!) Museum of Primitive Art. Specializing, in the words of this book cover from one of the exhibitions, in:
I’ve visited several times, but my response on this occasion was slightly different. Having spent the previous afternoon at a museum of “outsider” art I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the works in Musée du quai Branly are equally “outside” the mainstream of Western art, despite their embrace by Picasso and other giants of the 20th Century Modern Art movement. The first exhibition concerned the collector, critic and publisher Félix Fénéon (described as a, “[d]andy caché sous des allures de faux-Yankee…“), included a poignant little book in which Fénéon asked a variety of art experts whether African art would ever be admitted into the Louvre. The role he played as an advocate for African art, and the collection he amassed, were interesting, but overall this exhibition wasn’t terribly impressive. One example will illustrate his good taste, but it isn’t that different from what you find in the museum’s permanent collection:
The other exhibition concerned Oceania. It was well curated and wide-ranging, but again left me somewhat blasé, in part because I had spent a lot of time there and had already seen similar works to those on display. Again, here’s a nice pair of statues to give you a glimpse:
I actually spent most of my time in the permanent collection, which I’ve visited several times. Due to the enormous size of the collection, and the extremely confusing layout, I notice new pieces every time I visit. Here are a few that I particularly liked this year, and I’ve added a Musée du quai Branly Photo Set to capture what I liked best from all my visits.
To be honest, I think my enjoyment of the quai Branly is rather similar to my reaction to the outsider art museum the previous day: The pieces have the potential to surprise me, to weird me out, and to amuse.
They can also be beautiful and well made. But they rarely or never bring me to the same sort of aesthetic bliss as I not infrequently get from impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. My personal response isn’t an argument against putting them in the Louvre, since I’m no more likely to enjoy the average item there. And as we know, there’s no disputing about taste.
art, art brut, Charles Smith, Eugène, Fulvio Di Piazza, Gerard Mas, Gregory Warmack, Halle Saint-Pierre, Hey #4, Lee Godie, Masayoshi Hanawa, Montmartre, Mr. Imagination, Nils Bertho, outsider art, Rise and Rise Again Until Lambs Become Lions, The Kid
Rain was forecast for Monday so I looked for an indoor activity. Most museums were closed, either because they always close on Monday or because it was a jour férié (the Day After Pentecost). I decided to see two exhibitions of outsider art (art brut) at Halle Saint-Pierre, in part to avoid taking yet another exhibition off the shared-interest list with Eugène.
The scene when I emerged from the métro at Anvers was hideous: mobs of Sacré-Coeur tourists (and people who prey on tourists) crushing in from all sides. I had never been to Halle Saint-Pierre but it seemed to be in a dreadful location, just a block off the main tourist track. But it proved instead to be a haven of French hipsterdom.
The museum had two exhibitions, both on through August 2. The first was a retrospective of outsider art from Chicago over the past seventy-five years and the second was called “Hey #4, Modern Art and Pop Culture”. I approached the Chicago exhibition with skepticism, and came away with the somewhat condescending perspective that this is the art that America deserves in the Age of Trump.
The second exhibition, however, caught me by surprise. Hey #4 offered a wide variety of works, characterized by vividness, audacity and creativity. While popular, to be sure, much of this work was in no obvious way inferior to the art in a contemporary gallery or museum. Here are some glimpses:
This is only a taste! If you like some or all of these and would like to see a broader selection, please check out my Hey #4 Photo Set.
Augustin Dumont, Étoile, Balzac, Champs-Élysées, Eugène, gilets jaunes, Ivan Mazepa, La Génie de la Liberté, Léon Cogniet, Le Camondo, Le Parvis de Notre-Dame, meals, Metro, Musée Nissim de Camondo, Notre Dame, Parc Monceau, Petit Palais, Place de la Bastille, RATP, Romantic Paris, Zhizhong
On Saturday I arranged to meet Zhizhong at the Romantic Paris exhibition at the Petit Palais. We were aware that the gilets jaunes are active on Saturdays (and jours férié) so we checked on the RATP website to see what effects this might have on transport. The site warned that certain stations in the vicinity of the Champs-Élysées might be closed in the morning, but we weren’t meeting until 4 pm so I presumed that by then everything would be fine. Famous last words!
I allowed an extra half-hour to get there, just in case, but was surprised by an announcement on the line 1 métro that it would skip all stops starting with Tuileries. I got off at Palais Royal and started walking at a vigorous pace about two miles to the Petit Palais. At Concorde, however, I saw that not only were the Champs-Élysées blocked by police, but the entire area down to the bank of the Seine.
Fortunately, it was still possible to walk along the berges (shoreline walkways) of the Seine . The street running between the Grand Palais and Petit Palais was also blocked, but the police let me through politely when I asked about the Petit Palais. I was fifteen minutes late, but Zhizhong was nowhere to be seen. I waited another fifteen minutes in the lobby, then decided to see the show anyway. (Since I had no mobile phone there was no way to confirm when or whether he was coming; just like in the old days!) As it turned out, Zhizhong had an even more complex adventure, involving an illegal taxi driver who refused to accept a credit card, so was 45 minutes late himself. Fortunately we found each other in the exhibition. (Eugène subsequently remarked that Parisians stay home now on Saturdays, for exactly this reason.)
The exhibition was quite a lot of fun, but very different from the fine art I’m used to seeing. The focus in this exhibit was on the culture and style of the period from Napoleon’s fall in 1815 to the Revolution of 1848 (which started as the Second Republic but soon turned into the Second Empire, under Louis Napoléon, no doubt the subject of the next exhibition in the series). This exhibit took an interest in the artists and styles popular in the period, regardless of whether they have weathered the test of time. And many of the art works were principally intended to show us the people and mores depicted instead of inviting us to take any particular interest in the artist or artistic style.
The first room gave an overview of Paris in this period before diving into material related to eight particularly romantic parts of the city. This huge painting reminds us of how little of the Paris we know existed at the start of this period.
We are told that this painting had an immense success in 1827. It depicts a young Polish page who was tied nude to the back of a wild horse as punishment for adultery. Who am I to disagree?
Update: My friend Andrew points out in a comment that Balzac, among other authors, lampooned the fashion for including this print in French households of the period. His link also notes that the boy, Ivan Mazepa, survived the ordeal and went on to become the leader of the then-autonomous Cossack state.
In 1833 Notre-Dame didn’t yet have any of the additions by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (no relation) that burned earlier this year, and it was somewhat hemmed in by other buildings.
This painting of flags from the 1830 Revolution strikes me as being impressionist avant la lettre.
And here’s a glimpse of Léon’s studio, painted by his sister:
Just one of several funny caricatures by Daumier and others:
I’ve always admired the golden guy who tops the pillar celebrating the Revolution of 1830 that stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille. This is a half-size plaster model — still pretty big!
After we closed the place down, we strolled back across the still-blocked Champs-Élysées.
We had dinner at Le Camondo, a restaurant that Zhizhong had been wanting to try. The room is attractive, they have a nice terrace out back, and the food is quite good.
The service was friendly but somewhat casual, lacking the reserve I would expect to accompany fine dining. There was some sort of high-school party going on in an adjacent room, then on the terrace, which added youthful energy but was somewhat distracting. On the whole I would say that Le Camondo is quite a good museum restaurant but doesn’t offer an overall experience that justifies its price range.
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is next to the beautiful Parc Monceau, and I was pleasantly surprised to see, as we left the restaurant around 9:45 pm, that the park was still open. We strolled across it, and found it very atmospheric in the gathering dusk, despite reminders by an occasional guard to leave by 10.
We took the métro down to Étoile, after which our homes were in opposite directions. We naturally saved the most important part of our day’s conversation for our final parting, in the middle of a subway corridor.
6ème arrondissement, Alfred Sisley, art, Édouard Manet, Camille Corot, Claude Monet, Emil Bührle, Eugène, impressionist, Ladurée, macarons, Mariage Frères, Maurice de Vlaminck, Musée Maillol, neighborhoods, Paul Cézanne, Pierre Bonnard, Place de Furstenberg, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Thé des Impressionists, van Gogh, Vincent van Gogh
On Friday I met Eugène at the Musée Maillol to see an really excellent exhibition (on through July 21) of impressionist (also pre- and post-) paintings collected during the 1950s by a Swiss multimillionaire, Emil Bührle.
In all my visits to Paris I had never been to the Maillol! Partly this was due to the fact that the permanent collection is mostly composed of busty babes, which I don’t mind but don’t particularly seek out. And I suspect it was partly due to my prejudice against the 6ème, which I’m coming to see is just as unfair as being prejudiced against all of Montmartre simply because it has a trampled-to-death tourist track. Yes, the vicinity of métro Saint-Germain-des Prés is painful. But just a few blocks away there are gorgeous and peaceful spots like Place de Furstenberg.
I have seen a lot of impressionist art this year, but I was nevertheless quite taken by the Bührle collection. He assembled a few excellent works from all the major figures of the age; in fact it somewhat resembled the survey collections that old and rich colleges (such as Williams and Brown) put together for their students, except that Bührle apparently had almost unlimited resources. A dozen of the works turned out to have been looted in World War II, but he was able to buy most of them a second time from the legitimate owners, then get reimbursed by the gallery from which he purchased them.
Here are just a few of my favorite pieces (retouched to remove some nagging reflections):
After the exhibition, Eugène took me out to Ladurée for tea to celebrate my mumble-th birthday, then over to Mariage Frères for a renewed supply of vanilla-flavored Thé des Impressionists.
Addendum: Eugène professed to see a resemblance between me and this 1887 (Suicide-3) selfie by Van Gogh. #WhoDidItBetter?
I had rented my third Airbnb for the whole month of June together with my Boston friend Jared R., with whom I had shared Paris apartments for shorter periods in 2012 and again in 2016. The original plan was for him to come for the entire month, and since we would each have a bedroom we could also host close friends who might want to stay with us. I was looking forward to his company, but unforeseen circumstances have kept him in Boston for the first two weeks. He’ll be coming on June 16, so we’ll just have to pack his Paris experience into two weeks instead of four.
For the first two weeks of June, however, I’m “on my own again!” I had extended several invitations to Boston friends, but after getting a couple of definite maybes I came up empty handed. Fortunately, I’ve had some success this year with the much-maligned but unavoidable “apps.” Yes, many sketchy people use them, but so does everyone else, the result being that you simply have to sift through an enormous number of profiles and messages to find someone with whom there is mutual attraction, and who you also would enjoy knowing. Last year, as my loyal readers may recall, I had several nice dinners with a young man who I called “Theseus” but eventually realized that his motivations were mostly monetary (he resurfaced this year and claimed that he had “changed” but I politely declined). I was determined not to make the same mistake again this year, which has required me to do even more sifting than before.
Early in May I started chatting with a Sorbonne student who I’ll call “Tom.” We had really fun and funny online interchanges, often involving French and English language and culture. Our schedules were misaligned, however, so we didn’t meet in person until Tuesday evening. I proposed meeting for a drink at a nearby place that looked cute, La Belette qui Tête (literally, “the weasel who head”, perhaps some French double entendre?). Tom was flabbergasted, since of all the gin joints in Paris I had chosen the bar he had frequented with his ex! We quickly changed plans and agreed to meet at a place along nearby rue Mouffetard. I had fallen in love with this street when I first started visiting Paris, more than fifty years ago: it’s a narrow pedestrianized market street that winds its way down from the heights of the Latin Quarter. I only broke up with the street when I discovered, and started dating, my current beau, rue Montorgueil. Although both attract a lot of tourists, rue Mouffetard has a much higher percentage of foreign tourists, who I find icky. Tom suggested dinner at La Petite Bretonne, a really nice and authentic crêperie that has somehow avoided being ruined by tourists:
One of many “fun facts” that Tom has told me is that « après-midi » (afternoon) is the only French word that can be either masculine or feminine: « bon après-midi » and « bonne après-midi » are both correct.
I had virtually met Jack, a Malaysian landscape architect, when I was in London last October. We weren’t able to meet in person then but we kept in touch and he messaged me that he would be flying from Paris to Japan on June 6 so there might be a chance to meet in person. Everything fell in place and we met for beers at the very same La Belette Qui Tête, which indeed drew a young and hip crowd. After our apéro we had a lovely meal at a nearby restaurant, Desvouges, which had one of the highest online ratings I had ever seen (5.0). We were the first to arrive, at 7:30 pm, and I was a bit concerned to have chosen an empty restaurant. I mentioned to the friendly owner/chef/waiter my hope that others would join us and he humorously agreed! But the place of course filled quickly. The meal and service lived up to the stellar rating! My only critique is that the menu was heavy on red meat and a bit thin on fish.
Jack and I weren’t sure how much wine we wanted so the host offered us a bottle à la ficelle, which he explained (in his excellent English) meant that he would charge us for what we drank. Literally, ficelle means a piece of string, and the origin of the phrase was a knotted piece of string dipped in a pitcher.
My favorite new friend, however, I will call Eugène. He is also a student at the Sorbonne, from an old family based in southwestern France. We started with coffee in my neighborhood on Sunday, leading to dinner in the nearby and charming Buttes-aux-Cailles neighborhood. The next day he invited me over for afternoon tea.
After the exhibition, Eugène and I had lunch at La Méditerranée, a seafood restaurant on the Place de l’Odéon that we had both walked by many times but had never tried. At first I had a bit of sticker shock, but then I realized that there was a reasonable fixed price menu, which we enjoyed, despite somewhat inconsistent service.
Through June 17 the finest impressionist works from the Courtauld Gallery in London are on view at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. My feelings about Manet have been somewhat mixed; he seems sometimes to be courting scandal as well as seeking beauty. But I confess to being seduced by the signature painting of this exposition, despite the unnaturally skewed “reflection” in the upper right corner.
I added this, as well as several other paintings from the Courtauld exhibit, to Impressionism Far and Near, a photo set pairing favorite works with a close-up to show the beauty of the brush strokes.
The exhibition was really satisfying. Here are two more paintings I particularly liked.
It was a shock to continue on to an exhibition of modern and conceptual works from the permanent collection of the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Of course I know how art has evolved since the age of impressionism, but I’ve rarely felt what we have lost so keenly. I did enjoy — who wouldn’t? — stepping for the first time into one of Yayoi Kusama’s mirror rooms.
I like amusement park fun houses as much as the next person, and I don’t mind the fact that contemporary art installations provide an increasingly similar experience. (If I go to the Venice Biennale this year, which still might happen, I expect more of the same.) But the range of emotion and esthetic experience offered by impressionist art feels broader and deeper. Call me an old fuddy duddy — you would not be the first! — but at the end of the day I prefer impressionism.
On Friday afternoon, as I gorged myself on the flowers of Parc de Bagatelle and the art of the Courtauld collection I began to notice a nagging little sore throat. I knew exactly what this portended: at the very least I would start getting the sniffles, then would be sneezing and coughing for a few more days. This indeed occurred, and while it has slowed me down a bit I’ve still had some excellent adventures. To be continued…
On Wednesday, after walking 77 miles over the previous week, I was tired! I wrote a few blog posts, did some reading, and basically just put my feet up! I love walking, and it’s one of my favorite things to do in Paris. Over the decade I’ve been coming here I’ve consistently averaged about 7 miles a day (though only 6 in 2018). I knew from last year that I would be below average during my stay in the 15ème with my cousins, but I counted on Sherard’s insatiable appetite for walking to compensate. What I didn’t count on was that I would be walking almost as much with C.N. on the four days before Sherard arrived. So it turned out to be eleven solid days of intensive walking (including a 15-mile half-marathon day).
On Thursday, after more rest, I ventured out to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in the 3ème. There were some charming photos by Cartier-Bresson himself but the main event was a small exhibition of enormously enlarged street photos of African cities by a South African photographer, Guy Tillim. I was impressed, but by and large was happier perusing the images in a Paris gallery rather than actually being in one of those cities.
On my way home a gallery I hadn’t visited before this year — Galerie Rabouan Moussion — caught my eye. When I went in I was basically blown away by an exhibition of large-format photographs by Erwin Olaf that combined sumptuous surface beauty with witty, barbed and/or affecting points. Here are shots of a few that I particularly liked.
These two images, hung at very different levels, are related…
The next two images suggest relationships between two women.
This photograph was my favorite, because of the moving affection it shows as well as the scantily-clad model.
I naturally interpret this as a farewell between gay lovers who are about to be separated by the military service of one of them. But actually they could just be good friends, or even adopted brothers. Perhaps the ambiguity of the photograph makes the point that their powerful and obvious affection is the real and important thing. The exact nature of their relationship is relatively unimportant.