Visiting the Rodin Museum


A friend of mine was in town this week and had a long list of exhibitions, concerts, and plays she was going to see. I went along with her to the Rodin Museum to see the show entitled Le Rêve Japonais (The Japanese Dream). Both the show and the museum were wonderful, as was the serene sculpture garden. For someone like me who is not usually a fan of sculpture, I was pleasantly surprised. It occurred to me that perhaps I never enjoyed sculpture because I hadn’t studied it very much at all.

The exhibition included many Japanese works from Rodin’s personal collection, as well as sketches the artist carried out himself that show the influence of Japanese prints on his own art. A sign at the entrance warns parents that some of the images are not suitable for children. Indeed, many of the prints were erotic and quite graphic. A large part of the exhibition focused on the Japanese actress Hanako, who appears in many sculptures and photographs.

The garden at the Rodin Museum seems to get a lot of press, and rightly so. Three of the artist’s major works ?? The Burghers of Calais (see photo above), The Gates of Hell, and The Thinker ?? are shown here amidst blooming flowers and winding paths. It is bordered by the walls of the enormous but graceful 18th-century hôtel particulier that houses the museum itself (and another great sculpture, The Kiss) and which served as the artist’s residence (!) from 1908. A visit to the gardens without access to the rest of the museum costs just one euro. I don’t know why it took me eight months to finally visit!

Musée Rodin
79, rue de Varenne
Paris 7e
métro Varenne or Invalides
Open everyday but Monday

Reve JaponaisHanakoHanako PortraitMusee Rodin

Picasso’s Carmen?

Picasso Carmen

Was Picasso ?? lover of women, Spaniard expatriate, passionate painter ?? preoccupied with the figure of the gypsy seductress, Carmen? The Musée Picasso is currently holding an exhibition based on the premise that the character of Carmen, first developed in Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novel and then interpreted in Georges Bizet’s 1874 opera, was an influential figure in the painter??s oeuvre and imaginary. Alan Riding??s interesting review in the International Herald Tribune promotes this reading of Picasso??s work, imagining a seductive Carmen as motor and muse for his representations of the many women he painted throughout his life. I am not convinced this reading ??sticks,? however, once you??ve examined the sources on display.

To be sure, Picasso twice illustrated editions of Carmen ?? once in the late 1940s and again in 1964 (Le Carmen des Carmen) ?? and entitled “Carmen” an early drawing of a Spanish woman. A Spaniard and also lover of many women, images of his lovers wearing mantilla veils appear in dozens of drawings and paintings, as does imagery of the corrida. These two themes ?? seductive women and the bullfight ?? are indeed the principal components of the Carmen story and so, also, form the bulk of the Picasso works in the exhibition.

But I argue that these themes are simply identifiers of the Spanish culture from which Picasso came and then definitively left behind during the Franco era. The retro-fit operation of placing Carmen behind these works of art doesn??t seem to fit when Carmen really represents an exotic, Spanish caricature that would mean more to an outsider (say, a French author) than to the painter himself.

The Corrida
An avid fan of the corrida, Picasso quite often experienced this tradition of stamina and struggle, honor and sacrifice. It should be no surprise that the bullfight would emerge in so many of his drawings and paintings: Alan Riding has a convincing argument that Picasso used the bullfight in his art as a metaphor for animalistic human passions. Nonetheless, it would hold more strongly that the corrida imagery came from first-hand experience and artistic interpretation than it did from a 19th-century French story the artist read or opera he saw. It is not doubtful Picasso was interested in the corrida theme of the Carmen story, but the interest most likely preceded the story and not the other way around. It made up the cultural imaginary that surrounded him.

The Seductress
Much has been said about Picasso??s personal life. Womanizer to some, serial monogamist to others, he was married twice and had four children with three different women, and had many other companions in between. Françoise Gilot notoriously wrote about their 9-year relationship in often unflattering terms. I am not convinced, however, that this behavior is linked to a ??Carmen? that Picasso sought time after time in his serial amorous exploits. The theme of the femme fatale has more far-reaching origins and widespread interpretations than the particular figure of Carmen. Fin-de-siècle and Belle Epoque art and literature is particularly preoccupied with dangerous, hysterical, and eroticized femmes fatales, through figures like the biblical Salomé in the symbolist art of Gustave Moreau, paintings by Gustav Klimt, and literary works by decadent writers like Joris-Karl Huysmans. If in Picasso’s work or life such a figure emerges, it would be more useful to analyze this phenomenon in the broader context of late 19th- and early 20th-century art.

In all, the exhibition did not seem to provide convincing evidence of a ??Carmen? figure as the influential force behind the works displayed, but promoted instead a hind-sight look at his oeuvre through Merimée??s lens. Spain seen through the eyes of a Frenchman (be it Mérimée or Bizet) then caricaturized and reintroduced to a Spaniard? It may be giving too much credit to the mythical Carmen what Picasso??s own native visual inspiration and cultural imagery produced in his work. This context would serve as a more accurate and equally interesting premise to the exhibition.

“Picasso-Carmen: Sol y Sombra” runs until June 24.
Musée Picasso, 5, rue de Thorigny, 3rd arrondissement.
Open everyday but Tuesday from 9:30am-6:00pm.

Picasso Corrida Muerte ToreroPicasso Carmen des CarmenPicasso La CelestinePicasso Fernande MantillePicasso Olga FauteuilPicasso Olga MantillePicasso Senora Canals

Peynet Drawings

Peynet WindowI do a lot of research in the microfilm room of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Reel after reel of newspaper pages sometimes have surprises that amuse or shock me, and make the time fly by. Sometimes I find sensational fin-de-siècle headlines about “vampires” (people with rabies), sad souls jumping from the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, or the latest duel (a common way to resolve differences). But searching through Ici Paris, a later newspaper from the 1940s and 1950s, I found the sweetest drawings by a cartoonist named Raymond Peynet.

You may recognize his illustrations, which sometimes appears on post cards in Parisian paper shops. The theme is usually “les amoureux” with two lovers appearing in a variety of locations in a light-hearted scenarios, sometimes even akin to the floating style akin to Chagall.

Peynet (1908-1999) was born in Paris and became one of the most popular illustrators in France. He began his series of “Les amoureux” (the poet and his companion) in 1942, and later went on to draw over 6000 charming images in the series. The French singer/songwriter Georges Brassens even wrote a song inspired by the drawings, called “Les amoureux des banc publics” (“The Lovers of Public Benches”). There are two museums in France dedicated to the illustrator’s work. One in Brassac-les-Mines, and another in Antibes. The Picasso museum in Antibes (which I last visited in 2000) is closed for renovations until 2008, but the Peynet gives me a new reason to visit that Mediterranean town.

Below are some Peynet illustrations I found online, although I hope to photocopy and scan many of the ones I have found at the library. Note that, in the drawing of the gazebo, the woman is knitting! How can I not be one of the many “amoureux” of Peynet?

Peynet BenchPeynet BoatPeynet GazeboPeynet Harp

Beckett Expo: A sneak peak

Beckett SignI caught a sneak peak last night of the Samuel Beckett exposition that opens today at the Centre Pompidou. It was difficult for me to imagine exactly how an art museum would present the work of a novelist, playwright, and poet, but with all of the audio and video pieces, as well as paintings influenced by or favored by Beckett, the show pulls it off and you can spend hours taking it all in.

I recently took on a small side project of creating a Samuel Beckett crossword, which forced me to research and rediscover the work of one of my favorite authors of the twentieth century. As Professor Tom Bishop discussed in a talk he gave last fall, Beckett criticism often focuses on pessimism, the failure of language, the human condition of blindly, senselessly marching towards inescapable death. Bishop points out, however, that no character in Beckett’s work ever commits suicide, and there is a strange sort of optimism that one can read once they put down the existentialist lens. Godot never arrives, but Bishop asks, would it necessarily be a good thing if he did? The waiting continues, the characters continue to be.

Rather than attempt to delve deeper into Beckettian criticism, I thought I’d list some of my favorite Beckett quotations here, as a primer for those new to his work.

“Il faut continuer, je ne peux pas continuer… Je vais continuer.”
“You must go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.”

“Tant quil ya de la vie, il y a de l’espoir.”
As long as there is life, there is hope.

“Rire ou pleurer c’est la même chose à la fin.”
“Laugh or cry, it all comes out the same in the end.”

“Mais à cet endroit, en ce moment, l’humanité c’est nous, que ça nous plaise ou non. Profitons-en, avant qu’il soit trop tard.”
“But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”

Beckett MouthBeckett PortraitBeckett Ticket

Doisneau’s Paris

DoisneauTableauLes HelicopteresDoisneauHandstands

I stood in line and froze my toes to finally see the free Robert Doisneau exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville (a show that ended yesterday, helas). It was worth the frost bite to see other works from the famous photographer of “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville.”

Doisneau’s vision of Paris is beautiful, touching, and at times downright hilarious. He has shown in his photographs that a very human Paris exists; a Paris filled with love and serendipity. The Paris that I want to live in and perhaps help to create.

A long weekend in Madrid

Mosaic Madrid 1Mosaic Madrid 2Madrid is just a quick 1.5-hour flight from Paris, but it feels like a far-off place. From the moment we exited the metro station, we were surrounded by sunlight and color.

We enjoyed the late-night schedule, eating tapas and walking around the city from 10pm on. That didn’t mean we missed out on mornings, however: we just couldn’t pass up the churros dipped in thick hot chocolate and delicious coffee.

The highlight of our tour was the Reina Sofia modern art museum, famously housing Picasso’s Guernica, which is presented in the context of the Spanish Civil War. Also of note were many other masters of modernism and new realism, with a focus on Spanish artists with which francophiles like myself should become more familiar. We also particularly enjoyed the Chuck Close exhibition, which was a retrospective of his portrait art from the 1970s to today (last year MoMA had an exhibition of his self-portraits).

GuernicaChuck CloseDubonnet

Despite the high elevation and resulting chilly winter weather, the Spanish sun lit each day, amplifying the rich colors of the city. We probably had more ham than was good for us, and the prices for shoes and clothing were irresistable. In all, we were captivated by this cheerful city and look forward to discovering more of Spain in the future.

Rouault-Matisse: Correspondances

MatisseJazzMiserere19The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (that’s a mouthful) is currently showing an exhibition on Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse – two students of the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. The show begins with late 19th-century oils by Moreau and some early works by Rouault and Matisse while still students of the great maitre. The exhibition continues through several decades of art spread over five rooms.

I have a bias towards Rouault, since my work involves visual representations of religious subjects (and I gave a talk last spring on his Miserere series of prints from the 1920s). I must say, nonetheless, that I thought the Rouault pieces outnumbered the Matisse ones. A variety of works are presented, from woodcuts to pastels, gouaches decoupees (notably Matisse’s colorful Jazz) to book illustrations (both artists illustrated Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal at different points in their careers). These represent a half-century of artistic production on the part of the two artists with similar artistic beginnings and quite divergeant paths.

The exposition runs until February 11.

Re-discovering the Nabi Painters

Denis, La Couronne de MargueriteDenis, La Route au CalvaireSerusier, Le Talisman

If you are unfamiliar with any late-nineteenth century art movement but Impressionism, I invite you to explore the paintings of the post-impressionist Nabi group. Similar to the art nouveau decorative aesthetic, the Nabis (a name that means “prophet” in Hebrew) broke with naturalism to paint subjects beyond the visible. Paul Sérusier even went so far as to paint a proto-abstract work inspired by Gauguin’s theories and entitled The Talisman.

The youngest member of the group, Maurice Denis, was also the group’s theorist. Denis wrote in his journal from age 15 about a rebirth in painting, and one that would push the religious experience into the modern world. In his work we see this combination of the modern aesthetic and spiritual subject matter. The Musée d’Orsay is showing room after room of his paintings from 1889 to 1941, in an exhibition that ends January 21. It is well worth the extra euro or two.