Monday, June 16, 2008

Rooftops In The Snow

This painting by Gustave Caillebotte, captures the spirit of Paris so well. From the tower of the Notre Dame, similar rooftop scenes abound in any direction.

Master Monet

Claude Monet had his good days and his bad days, just like the rest of us. That means some of his paintings barely reach mediocrity and some of his work is simply outstanding. Here are some details of what I mean with "outstanding" from his series of phantomlike portrayals of the Cathedrale de Rouen of which 5 paintings are in the collection of the Musee d'Orsay. I am deeply impressed and inspired by them. Like some of his later - much larger -waterlilies paintings, the surface buildup of these paintings is mysteriously complex. It is work like this that sets certain artists apart and above their contemporairies and beyond.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

French For Despair

Beaux-Arts sculptures cause me mixed feelings. I appreciate the Classical ideals that served as inspiration for depicting the human form and the use of physical pose to convey a mental or emotional attitude.
A lot of it is too dramatic or sentimental to my taste. Cultivated positions can easily look contrived when the artist does not use the correct amount of restraint to keep it subtle. When done with skill, it leaves some outstanding works of art. One sculpture that stopped me in my tracks is the above, and below, titled Le Desespoir (I forgot the name of the artist). I wished I could have taken it home.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

La Gare d'Orsay

One of the highlights of this trip was our visit to the Musee d'Orsay. I knew already very well the collection of paintings it houses, and I was strongly anticipating to see them in real.... again. Some of these paintings I had seen already in 1978 in the Musee du Jeu de Paume, which held the impressionist paintings until 1986. Others I had seen before at some of the important exhibitions of Europalia in Brussels.

The interior of the museum itself remained for the most part a mystery because I had never seen images of the building itself. I knew it was a restored former train station from the Beaux-Arts period. However, that did not prepare me for the spectacular view of the main hall and how this vast space has been divided into exhibition rooms. Wow! It surpassed my wildest expectations.

Serra In The Tuileries

See that barrier of rusty steel in the distance, behind the people, forming a gate toward the Place de la Concorde? That is another Richard Serra sculpture. You will see it better by clicking on the picture to enlarge it.
Now I regret not having walked closer to be near it but on that afternoon my feet were whining relentlessly to walk back to our room and change to a horizontal position for a while. It's one of the things I miss so much from Europe, the ability to walk a lot on a daily basis. I am not used to it anymore!

Grand Serra

Another favorite contemporary sculptor is Richard Serra. I have seen some his work at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, in New York City (see Massive Curves, 09/02/2007), and now in Paris. Seems like every city with cultural ambitions needs to have a Richard Serra. One of his sculptures is partially blocking the view of the Place de la Concorde, at the end of the Jardin des Tuileries (I'll search if I have a picture of it).
Here his work is on display at the Grand Palais. It seems as if he made these monumental plates specifically for this space. His work always leaves quite an impression on me. Does that make me a junkie of minimalism?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bronze Spider

A huge poster on the facade of the Centre Pompidou announced an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois' work. I admire her work a lot. She is one of the great sculptors of our era. However, I chose not to go see it because of the long lines in front of the ticket booths ... and because I do not like that building at all. Instead, I took a picture of one of her giant Spiders that found a home in the Jardin des Tuileries. It looks like an alien invader.

Inspiring Attraction

Paris is filled with interesting architecture and it reminds me a lot of New York City in that aspect, be it that Paris is a lot more user friendly, better proportioned to fit humans. The architecture appears at the same time diverse and coordinated. It is an attractive city that is a candy box for the eyes, very livable and inspiring.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I had a great time at the Louvre and learned a lot, despite the crowd. I remember when museums were less visited ... at least on weekday mornings. I remember walking through the halls at the Louvre and only occasionally encountering other living souls. That could be a guard, or a couple of visitors, or here and there an art student, sitting at his easel in front of a painting that he/she was meticulously copying. In my earliest recollection, these art copiers were older men, some wearing a beret, indicating they must have been French. In later years they were younger and mostly Asian. And now there are none because museums became appealing to the general public and are busy as department stores on sales days. It's a great development, to see art is being appreciated by so many, but it also makes me feel nostalgic to quieter times.

Famous Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is a celebrity. She only gained that status during the last 100 years or so, which it is remarkable. Paris Hilton won't last that long (luckily).
I like the new location and the lighter colored wall much better. It is intriguing why this particular painting is so popular. Marketing is to a large degree responsible, because the painting is not particularly different in quality from the other paintings by this artist in the Louvre. My personal favorite is his lesser known portrait of St. John the Baptist (bottom picture)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Airy Hall

I remember the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre received a lot of criticism when it was newly built. I have no idea what the general opinion about it is nowadays. It does not bother me personally and I found the central hall beneath it very functional, well lit with natural light and providing easy access to different sections of the museum. It must be hot under all that glass in the summer though.

Not A Cover Girl?

The Venus of Milo is certainly not a pretty woman to modern standards. Her big boned features punctuated by a blunt nose and heavy jaw, fat cheeks (do I see acne there?), massive hips and giant feet are not exactly suggestive of 21st Century ideals of elegance and beauty. Yet, there is a very strong attraction towards this sculpture, resulting from the inviting slightly forward leaning pose and direct gaze. She does not go unnoticed, she leaves a lasting impression... and let's agree that is not because her breasts are perfectly shaped, OK?

Few individuals possess that special aura of graceful confidence and personality that makes heads turn in their direction wherever they go. I read in an article - many years ago - that Elizabeth Taylor has (or had) that aura, Luci Baines Johnson has it too. When these women appear at public functions, we can not resist the urge to stare at them. Esthetic imperfections are overshadowed by grace. To be able to carve that untangible special quality in cold stone is ultimate Art. This is even more remarkable because the arms and hands, important elements by whose position we base a lot of our judgements, are missing.


The Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre is one of the most admired Greek sculptures. One can almost feel the force of the wind, pressing the thin woven robe against the forward striding female body. One can almost hear the flapping of the fabric in the wind. There is force, movement and strong energy radiating from this sculpture.

Treasures From The Past

The honest boldness in Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture continues to stupefy me, bringing me on the verge of tears. There are a few posts on the subject in this blog already. Now again, at the Louvre, I stood face to face with some truly amazing artistic feats of around 2000 years ago.

These examples below are not simply a likeness of a certain person of that age. The marble portraits are injected with life, personality, a certain energy, making them incredibly beautiful. They are testimony to a time when unashamed admiration of the human body was not yet adulterated by the rigors of Christianity.