Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ran into Manet in Avignon

I have now been back from France for a week and have finally gotten over the fog of jet lag. While in France this time, I didn't get to see the amount of art that I usually enjoy seeing during  my travels. That said, I was able to visit fascinating sights and enjoy an extraordinary landscape. In fact, while at the West Mill, I spent as much time as possible beside the stunningly beautiful Gardon River. 

I also was able to visit Musee Angladon in Avignon, which is a house museum that displays some of the collection of the Parisian couturier Jacques Doucet (1853-1929). There is work by Cezanne, Van Gogh and Manet to name a few of the artists that had been collected, and are on view at the museum. In fact, the only piece in the south of France from Van Gogh's Arles period is in this location. The wall text was understandably in French. Fortunately, there were laminated informational sheets that told stories of the work on view in English. Although this was a very small museum, the information afforded a visitor was lengthy and I whiled away considerable time there.

The story that I found most compelling regarding work in the collection regarded a work by Edouard Manet. This is a shortened version of what I learned about his painting "The Rabbit:"

Chardin's "Hare with a Game Bag and Powder Flask"

"The Rabbit" was painted in 1866, which was the same year that Emile Zola, already well known as an author, had to resign from the newspaper L'Evenement for having defended Manet's work. In 1863 Manet's work had caused an uproar at the Salon des Refuses and again at the official Salon in 1865. His work had been violently criticized.
     Unlike many artists, Manet did not seek to be in opposition, and seems to have chosen to work on classical still life subjects with compositions similar to famous works. It is believed that he did this in an effort to turn to accepted traditions. "The Rabbit" is an example of such work. In his visits to the Louvre, Chardin's "Hare with a Game Bag and Powder Flask" (see above) surely caught the attention of Manet, who then painted a similar representation. 

Manet's "The Rabbit"

     Jacques Doucet acquired the Manet painting on 4 March 1906. In purchasing this piece Doucet could approach a contemporary artist via a subject which could be part of his collection of 18th century works, which included several works by Chardin. Doucet enjoyed mocking his visitors' preconceived ideas about Manet saying: 
     "During the period when I delighted in the eighteenth century, I also had my eyes open for newer art. In the middle of the wall covered with Chardins, I had hung the rabbit painted by Manet. My visitors admired the entire wall, never doubting there was an odd man out. And if I wickedly revealed its presence, they fled like rabbits themselves, upset. I still have the Manet, whereas the Chardins have since moved on."

From this story alone, I think that I would have enjoyed knowing Doucet.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sainte Enimie— Another Superb Surprise

Three days ago, my intrepid workshop participants and I headed out of the house with our special guide, Martin, to the Gorges du Tarn. I was driving, so I was careful not to always look at the magnificent scenery since the drop off over the cliff (without a guard rail) was extraordinary. Also extraordinary, was the town we visited during our day out.

Sainte Enimie has been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, and I could see why. The medieval village developed around a Benedictine monastery founded in 951. Now, 250 people live in the village of Sainte-Enimie year round. We walked on the cobbled streets, had a delicious lunch and explored a bit more. All in all, it was a lovely day. 

I have included a photograph of some of the ancient buildings in the town, and also a photograph of the doors of a home that has three acanthus leaf thistles adorning the building. The acanthus leaf thistle is a protected species, and is thought to act as a barometer and to ward off evil spirits. I had thought that the flowers on the buildings were sunflowers, but found that I was wrong and was very interested in what was really placed on the walls and why. I hope that you can get a tiny feel of how amazing this little village was for us to experience. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Surprise at the Palais des Papes...

The Palais des Papes is the most visited tourist attraction in Avignon. Gil and I arrived here two days ago, and spent the bulk of the day yesterday visiting this amazing historical structure. The monument is fascinating. We easily spent almost three hours there, meandering around, listening to the recorded tour and marveling at all that we saw.

The Palais is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Since my feet have been firmly planted on US soil, I am fascinated with ancient architecture. Mine is such a young country. The construction of the Palais was begun in 1252. That fact alone boggles my mind! 

Because of its size, the Palais serves as an art exhibition center as well. The first such exhibition took place in 1947. This was a fact unknown to me. Imagine my surprise when I found myself face-to-face with contemporary art made by well known women artists while touring the building. The exhibition presently installed is entitled "Les Pappesses," and includes the art of Camille Claudel, Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Jana Sterbak and Berlinde De Bruyckere. 

The title of this exhibition refers to the story of Pope Joan. In the ninth century, predating the arrival of the popes in Avignon, a charismatic scholar was elected pope, and reigned as such until it was discovered that she (as a representative of God on earth) was pregnant. The story took hold of the medieval imagination. Even today, at the end of the conclave at the Vatican, a pierced chair allows verification of the sex of the newly elected pope, to avoid appointing a popess again. Goodness!!

I was fascinated seeing the modern and contemporary art juxtaposed with this ancient ediface. I am including a few images of the work displayed for you to see. The first image is of a tapestry made by Kiki Smith. Smith has worked in varied media. This is one of several tapestries included in the show made by her. I was moved by this particular tapestry for sentimental reasons. Smith utilized the eagle to symbolize the importance her country (the United States) holds in her life. Each tapestry was in a similar color palette and fit in remarkably well in the Palais. In fact, at first glance, I was inclined to believe that they had hung in the building for centuries. You can see how well the tapestry fits relative to the colors of the wall and floor surrounding it. 

Kiki Smith's tapestry at the Palais des Papes

The next piece for which I have an image, is a scupture made by Louise Bourgeois entitled "Spider." I spend sizable amounts of time visiting Washington, DC since I live so close, so the minute I saw "Spider," I was transported home. One of her sculptures, very similar to this one, is installed in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art in the District of Columbia. Art is indeed a univeral language. That said, seeing this piece in an ancient building provided a much different perspective. The ancient, with the more contemporary, was an exceedingly interesting comparison. I am perhaps as impressed with Bourgeois's persistence as I am with her art. It was not until she reached the age of seventy that she was recognized with her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Spider by Louise Bourgeois at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France

To see more about this exhibition, you may go to this worthwhile website: 

More soon! A bien tot!