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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Sur le Pont d’Avignon

11 – 12 Feb 2006: Avignon, France

This week, I am on an assignment in Avignon, a  small city southeast of France with an estimated population of 90,000. The city is well known for its Palai des Papes (Palace of the Popes), where several popes and antipopes lived from the early 14th to early 15th centuries. I was staying Novotel Avignon located in the northern part of Avignon, about 20 min drive to City Centre.  My newly aquainted friend, Olivier, suggested that I moved to a hotel in City Avignon during the weekend. After researching on the Internet, I checked into a 3-star Hotel De L’Horloge Avignon, a modest hotel but strategically located next to the Pope Palace on Friday late evening.

Place de l'Horloge 06

Place de l'Horloge 01

Pope Palace

After a good night rest and a heavy continental breakfast, I headed to Palai des Papes or the Pope Palace. Relatively unknown to most, the pope’s seat was relocated to Avignon during the Middle Age. It started when Pope Clement V was unwilling to face the violent chaos of Rome after his election in 1305. The Pope’s Palace, first built in the 1300s, is the size of four normal French cathedrals and is the largest gothic palace in Europe. The popes finally departed Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome.

 Pope Palace 01

  Pope Palace 11

Pope Palace 26

 Pope Palace 05

Pope Palace 14

Avignon Cathedral

Above the Pope Palace is Avignon Cathedral (also known as Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon). It is a 12th-century Roman Catholic cathedral with a prominent statue of the Virgin Mary. The steps leading from the cathedral go to the Rocher des Doms is the cradle of Avignon. It is and always has been a popular spot for a promenade. You reach it by the steps leading from the cathedral Notre Dame des Doms, which offers a panorama view of the surrounding region.

Rocher des Doms 01

Avignon Bridge

After the Pope’s Palace, I visited the Pont Saint-Bénezet, a famous medieval bridge spanning across the Rhone River. It was built between 1171 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. The construction of the bridge was inspired by Saint Bénézet, a local shepherd boy who was commanded by angels to build a bridge across the river. Although he was ridiculed at first, he dramatically “proved” his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone. He won support for his project from wealthy sponsors who formed themselves into a Bridge Brotherhood to fund its construction.

Pont d'Avignon 01

Pont d'Avignon 03

Commonly known as the Avignon Bridge, it has achieved worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon” (“On the bridge of Avignon”), the lyrics of which are as follows:

Sur le pont d’Avignon (On the bridge of Avignon)
L’on y danse, l’on y danse (Everyone is dancing) 
Sur le pont d’Avignon (On the bridge of Avignon)
L’on y danse tous en rond (Everyone is dancing in a circle)
Les jeunes filles font comme ci (The young girls go like this)
Les garcons font comme ca (The boys go like that) …
 

Pont d'Avignon 05

avignon 01

Angladon Museum

After my lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, I went to the Angladon Museum. Opened in 996, the Angladon Museum presents famous artworks from a rich parisian collector, Jacques Doucet. Here, you can see masterpieces by van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and Modigliani. Unfortunately, camera and video-cam were not allowed in the premise:

 angladon museum 01

The remaining afternoon was devoted to roaming in the streets and taking beautiful pictures of this quiet town.

avignon 03

avignon church

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13 Feb 2006: Avignon, France

Rhone River 

After a week’s hectic traveling from Paris to Avignon, I just wanted my Sunday to be relaxing.  After filling my stomach, I strolled along the Rhone River. The Rhone River originates from Switzerland and run through the south-eastern France. On the opposite bank of the river is Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, a town founded by Philippe le Bel.

rhone river 03

rhone river 02

 villeneuve lez avignon - phillipes tower 05

avignon 08

Tower of Philippe le Bel

In the 14th-century, an enclosure was built to protect the Benedictine abbey and the town of St. André.  The Tower of Philippe le Bel was constructed to control access to Avignon’s Saint Bénezet bridge. And today, the tower is the only part that remains of the defensive fortress.

villeneuve lez avignon - phillipes tower 01

villeneuve lez avignon - phillipes tower 03

Petit Palais Museum

After noon, I checked out from the hotel and spent the afternoon at the Petit Palais Museum.  The Petit Palais Museum is an art gallery located next to the Pope Palace. It was opened in 1976 and has an exceptional collection of Renaissance paintings of the Avignon school as well as from Italy.  One of its most viewed collections is Sandro Botticelli’s Virgin & the child:

Museums  Petit Palais - Botticelli virgin & the child

Museums  Petit Palais 08

 
Last Night in Avignon
 
It was our last day in Avignon. Olivier and I picked a restaurant along Chemin de Ronde for dinner. Could not recall the name of the restaurant but had unique mural paintings its wall. The food was great and we got a good night view of the Pope Palace from the windows. The Pope Palace looked nostalgic at night – probably because I am departing this lovely quiet town at 6 am tomorrow… 

 Chemin de Ronde 01

 french restaurant 02

french restaurant (olivier)

PS: Bought this dark chocolates with almond nuts from the supermarket in Avignon.They were good value and very good!!!

french choc

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DAY 1 | 9 June 2005 – Paris |

After 13 hours of flight time, we finally touched down at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7 am. As we walked towards the immigration checkpoint, my mind flashed through images of Steven Spielberg’s film “The Terminal”, the story of a man “without a country” spending over 15 years in this airport, starring Tom Hanks. The film is said to be inspired by the 18-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I from 1988 to 2006. 

We checked into The Courtyard by Marriott Paris Neuilly, a hotel located in the residential neighborhood of Neuilly Sur Seine near downtown Paris. This hotel is an easy access to the main attractions and monuments of the city: the Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

The easiest way to travel within Paris (and for most part of Europe) is using the Paris Metro. It has 16 lines and over 300 stations, covering a total distance of 214 km. We bought two-day travel cards, which allowed us to commute unrestrictedly within Paris.

JL in Metro

Louvre Museum

Our first stop was at the Louvre Rivoli station. Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, is housed in the Louvre Palace and is located on the right bank of the Seine River. In front of the Louvre is a glass pyramid entrance, designed by a renowned American architect, I.M. Pei. The glass pyramid allows the natural sunlight to come in on the underground floor.

CSJL at Louvre

We spent nearly 4 hours in the Louvre Museum and of course, we finally witnessed the smile of Mona Lisa!

JL & mona lisa smile

Notre Dame

The next destination was to the Notre Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’ in French). Notre Dame de Paris (1163 – 1345), one of the finest French Gothic cathedral in the world, was among the first buildings in the world to use the “flying buttress” (arched exterior supports). In the early 19th century, the cathedral was in such a bad state of disrepair that the city planners were thinking of tearing it down. Victor Hugo, a French novelist and renowned author of Les Miserables, was a great admirer of the cathedral. He wrote his novel the Hunchback of Notra Dame to raise awareness of the cathedral’s heritage. This novel sparked renewed interest  to start campaign for collecting funds to restore the cathedral.

CSJL at Notre Dame

notre dame 03

notre dame 02

The architecture of this cathedral is astounding and exquisite. Near the entrance of the choir, you can see a sculpture of Virgin with Child. Virgin Mary, with a crown adorned on her head, is carrying baby Jesus on her arm, who is playing with the fastening of her cloak. JL lighted a candle here to pray for well wishes.

 notre dame 04

JL at Notre Dame 01

We were feeling especially tired and hungry, as we passed through the streets in St Michael. Finally settled into a quick service Chinese restaurant.

 JL at St Michaels 01  

St Michaels 02

Eiffel Tower

We devoted the rest of the evening for Paris’ most iconic landmark. Named after its designer (Gustave Eiffel), the Eiffel Tower (completed in 1889) is the tallest building in Paris at 324m, which is equivalent to about 81 levels in a conventional building. It was built to celebrate the French Revolution. There are total of 3 levels  – the first and second levels are accessible by stairways and lifts and the third level brings you to the observation platform.

JL with Effel 02

Effel 04Effel 01

The queue up to the Eiffel Tower was long one. But once we reached the third level, we found the hours spent in the long queue very worthwhile. Right before our eyes was a spectacular bird-eye view of this beautiful city and the Seine River. We took a picture of our Singapore National Flag at the observation platform.

 Effel top view 05

JL at Effel top 03CSJL at Effel top 01

I always like to plan Europe trips during summer for two main reasons. First, you can travel light (no clogging of winter clothes in your suitcase) and secondly, daylight is proloned till very late evening (you can practically do sightseeing till you drop!). It had been a long day and we were both dog-tired; after reaching the hotel at 10 pm, we headed straight to bed.

DAY 2 | 10 June 2005 – Paris |

With a good night rest, we were ready to explore Paris again. We checked out from the hotel, dumped our luggage with the concierge, and hit out to the street. Breakfast was brisk and confined to some nice bakery we picked up on the way to the subway.

JL at breakfast

Arc de Triomphe

We alighted at the Charles de Gaulle – Etoile station to see Paris’ well-known monument, Arc de Triomphe. The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories, but ironically, he was ousted before the arch was completed. It was only completed in 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe.

CSJL at arc de triomphe01

On the inside and the top of the arch are engraved with the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . The top of the arch is a viewing platform from where you have great views of the Champs-Elysees. Probably the most famous avenue in the world, Champs-Elysées is bordered by cinemas, theaters, cafés, luxury shops, beautiful gardens with fountains and some grand buildings.

arc de triomphe03

arc de triomphe06

  arc de triomphe_triumph of napoleonarc de triomphe08

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur

The journey to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur was an interesting one. As the Sacré-Coeur was built on top of the Montmartre Hill, we took a tram up the hill.

Basilique du sacre coeur 01

Basilique du sacre coeur_elevator

This Roman Catholic Basilica has three arches, which are adorned by two statutes of French national saint, Joan of Arc. There is a mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, which is among the largest in the world.

JL at Basilique du sacre coeur

Basilique du sacre coeur 03

Orsay Museum

We had lunch at a cafe at Place du Tertre, overseeing the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, before proceeding to our next destination – the Orsay Museum. The Musée d’Orsay is a museum housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. It is the home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings. We spent the rest of the afternoon here in this fabulous museum.

JL at Orsay 01

Orsay 01

This was our last stop in Paris. After returning back to Marriott Courtyard Neuilly to collect our luggage, we headed to Concorde Hotel to catch an airport shuttle bus to the Beauvais Paris Airport. Tonight, we are taking Ryan Air (an European budget airline) to fly into Rome. Soon after midnight, we arrived at the Rome Ciampino Airport.  Taxi is very expensive in Rome but at that wee hour, all other public transport had ceased operations. The cab ride to Hilton Rome Airport costed EUR 90!

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9 Jun 2005 | Paris, France

Louvre Museum

It has always been my dream to visit the Louvre Museum and today, it is becoming real. This largest museum in the world was originally built in the 12th century as a fortress and was later converted into a royal palace in the 14th century. Over the next hundred years, three new wings were added to the palace. The collection from the Louvre Museum was first started in the 16th century by King Francis I. One of the art works he bought was Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting. The collection grew steadily from donations and purchases by the kings. It was during the French Revolution that the private royal collection was finally opened to the public in 1793.       

       

       

The three wings house about 35,000 objects on display. The diverse collection is spread over eight Curatorial Departments and ranges from the antiquity up to the mid 19th century. A major part of the collection consists of European paintings and sculptures.  There are other rooms contain Roman, Egyptian, Greek and Oriental art. We spent nearly 4 hours inside the Louvre and had to be very selective for our viewings. Here was largely what we covered.         

 GREEK, ETRUSCAN AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES  

Venus de Milo (around 130–100 BC) | This statue was discovered in April 1820 in Melos (or Milo) in the Cyclades and represent the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Venus in Latin).

      

   
  
Winged Victory of Samothrace (around 190 BC) | The winged goddess of Victory standing on the prow of a ship overlooked the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace. This monument was probably an ex-voto offered by the people of Rhodes in commemoration of a naval victory in the early second century BC. The theatrical stance, vigorous movement, and billowing drapery of this Hellenistic sculpture are combined with references to the Classical period-prefiguring the baroque aestheticism of the Pergamene sculptors.   

        

Fighting Warrior or Borghese Gladiator (around 100 BC) | Since its discovery in the early seventeenth century, the Borghese Gladiator has been praised as an aesthetic model of the male nude in motion. It was endlessly copied, modeled and adapted by both modern and contemporary artists. This hero defends himself energetically, thrusting his torso forward in a movement that is both defensive and self-protective. Protected behind his shield, he prepares to riposte, his face turned sharply towards his opponent.  

     

Heracles and Telephus (1st–2nd century AD) | Telephus was the son of Heracles and Auge, the daughter of Aleos ( King of the city of Tegea in Arcadia). After being cast out by her father, Auge abandoned her son on Mount Parthenion. Suckled by a deer, the infant was saved by shepherds before being recovered by Heracles.   

 

Unknown Greek Sculpture      

       

SCULPTURES
 
Sully Wing       

Captive (aka “Dying Slave”, 1513-1515) by Michelangelo
 
 
 
 
Horses restrained by grooms (also known as The Marly Horses, 1739 – 1745)by Guillaume I Coustou  | These two large marble sculptures representing horses restrained by grooms were commissioned in 1739 for the horse pond in the gardens of the Château de Marly. In 1743, the king chose the models exhibited in the Louvre courtyard; the marble sculptures were installed at Marly in 1745. In 1749, they were moved to Paris on the initiative of the painter David, and placed on high pedestals at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées. 

 

 

 

Four Captives also known as Four Defeated Nations: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg, and Holland (1682-85) by Martin van den Bogaert  | Taken from the pedestal of the statue in the Place des Victoires, these captives represent the nations defeated by the Treaty of Nijmegen (1679). Each expresses a different reaction to captivity: revolt, hope, resignation, or grief. They were first kept in the Invalides (1804-1939) then allocated to the Louvre in 1960 and placed in the grounds of the Château de Sceaux from 1961 to 1992.

       

EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES   

The Department of Egyptian Antiquities presents vestiges from the civilizations that developed in the Nile Valley from the late prehistoric era (c. 4000 BC) to the Christian period (4th century AD).      

Colossal statue of Ramesses II | This statue represents a king, sitting on a throne covered in inscriptions in the name of Ramesses II. The original identity of this work was the subject of much heated debate: traces of modifications to the crown, face, torso, and throne were long thought to indicate that the king had re-used an older work. It is almost certain, however, that these changes resulted from the monument being moved to another site during the course of the great pharaoh’s sixty-seven-year reign. 

       

THEMATIC TRAIL 

Cupid & Psyche by Antonio Canova | This work depicts the final scene in the story of Cupid and Psyche. Cupid has just arrived, his wings are still raised and form an X with Psyche’s body. Circle round the sculpture and look for the points where the two bodies meet. Move closer and note the different aspects of the marble as it brings substance and material reality to the figures’ essence: the softness of the hair, the transparency of the wings, the fullness of the flesh, the roughness of the rock, the vase’s polished shape, the smoothness of the draperies      

      

Sarcophagus of a married couple from Cerveteri | The couple are portrayed as banqueters, half-reclining on beds covered with mattresses. They belonged to the elite of Etruscan society. The wife, sumptuously dressed and adorned with jewelry, has a tutulus (conical hat) and wears boots with curved tips. Her husband may be wearing a blond wig. Note the curious folded cushions that the couple are leaning on: they are goatskins for wine. Wine was a luxury drink, and sets of wine vessels, consisting of large numbers of pieces, varied greatly in style, as demonstrated by the drinking cups of diverse forms displayed in the vitrine to the right.      

       

PAINTINGS 

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese (1533) | In 1553, Veronese was summoned to Venice where he gave free rein to his decorative talent in vast canvases that blended masterful composition, splendid contemporary costumes, and luminous colors. The Wedding Feast at Cana graced the refectory designed by Palladio for the Benedictine monastery on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore. With masterly freedom of interpretation, Veronese transposed the biblical episode to the sumptuous setting of a Venetian wedding: In Cana, Galilee, Christ is invited to a wedding feast during which he performs his first miracle. At the end of the banquet, when the wine is running low, he asks the servants to fill the stone jars with water and then offer them to the master of the house, who finds that the water has been turned to wine. This episode, told by the Apostle John, is a precursor of the Eucharist. The bride and groom are seated at the left end of the table, leaving the center place to the figure of Christ. He is surrounded by the Virgin, his disciples, clerks, princes, Venetian noblemen, Orientals in turbans, several servants, and the populace. Some figures are dressed in traditional antique costumes, while others—the women in particular—wear sumptuous coiffures and adornments. Veronese depicts, with apparent ease, no less than 130 feast-goers, mixing biblical figures with men and women of the period. The latter are not really identifiable, although according to an 18th-century legend, the artist himself is depicted in white with a viola da gamba next to Titian and Bassano, all of whom contribute to the musical entertainment. The bearded master of ceremonies could be Aretino, whom Veronese greatly admired. Several dogs, birds, a parakeet, and a cat frolic amidst the crowd. 

       

       

Une Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1814) |  In his most famous nude here, Ingres painted a nude with long, sinuous lines bearing little resemblance to anatomical reality, but rendered the details and texture of the fabrics with sharp precision. This woman lying on a divan is offering herself because she is nude and turns her face towards us. The painting’s title, which means “harem woman,” and the accessories around her conjure up the sensuous Orient.

Unknown but beautiful painting       

       

Saint Sebastian by Pietro Perugino (1493-1497) | The martyrdom of the legendary saint, St. Sebastian, was frequently depicted in the fifteenth century. St. Sebastian is tied to a column with a composite capital and pierced by arrows. The city that appears in the distance is comprised of ancient buildings set against a metaphorical landscape.  

       

The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci | Leonardo’s emblematic and complexly symbolic The Virgin of the Rocks celebrates the mystery of Incarnation in portrayals of the Virgin Mary, Christ and Saint John the Baptist. For the first time, these holy figures, bathed in a gentle light, are set in rocky landscape. The many contemporary copies of the picture attest to the immense popularity of this new vision of the theme. 

       

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by Leonardo da Vinci (1499) | Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus – three generations, two the fruit of immaculate conception – are portrayed in a landscape. The picture was very probably commissioned as an ex-voto to Saint Anne in gratitude for the birth of Louis XII’s daughter, but Leonardo worked too long on the picture to deliver it. The composition is a fine example of his experimentation with figure composition and greatly inspired artists of the following generation.  

   

And finally, the moment we have been looking forward to – Mona Lisa and her mystery smile…

    

Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (1503 – 1506) by Leonardo da Vinci | This portrait is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. The history of the Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery. Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection.  The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil. In fact, such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. Her clothing is unremarkable. Neither the yellow sleeves of her gown, nor her pleated gown, nor the scarf delicately draped round her shoulders are signs of aristocratic status. 

       

Source of Information: Louvre Museum Website   

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10 Jun 2005: Paris, France

Orsay Museum 

I have no qualms in admitting that I am an Impressionist Art fanatic and Orsay Museum is on my must-visit checklist at the Paris stop.

The Orsay Museum (aka Musée d’Orsay) was originally a train station (Gare d’Orsay) that was abandoned since 1961. French president Giscard d’Estaing decided to use the Gare d’Orsay as a museum for 19th and 20th century art. It was opened in 1986 with 2300 paintings, 1500 sculptures and 1000 other objects. Orsay Museum is truly a home to the impressionist paintings with comprehensive collections of works byDegas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh and others. 

 

 

As we entered the gallery, there was a class teacher explaining Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass to the attentive children… probably giving hints that we should start with Monet, the Father of Impressionists…

Claude Monet 

Luncheon on the Grass  (1863) | This fragment is one of the remaining parts of the monumental Luncheon on the Grass by Monet. The work started in 1865 and measured over 4m by 6m. It was intended to be both a tribute and a challenge to Manet whose painting of the same title had been the subject of much sarcasm from the public as well as the critics when it was exhibited in the Salon des Refusés in 1863. But the project was abandoned in 1866, just before the Salon where Monet intended to show it, opened. In 1920, the painter himself recounted what had happened to the picture: “I had to pay my rent, I gave it to the landlord as security and he rolled it up and put in the cellar. When I finally had enough money to get it back, as you can see, it had gone mouldy.” Monet got the painting back in1884, cut it up, and kept only three fragments. The third has now disappeared.

 

A Corner of the Apartment (1875) | From 1871, when he returned from England, until 1878, Monet lived in the commune of Argenteuil near Paris. During this period he often featured his wife Camille in his paintings, with their eldest son Jean, born in 1867. He is pictured here, inside the second house that Monet lived in in Argenteuil, with a figure, probably Camille, in shadow in the background.  The foreground here consists of a symmetrical décor: hangings with coloured motifs, green plants, and decorative vases, seen in other paintings by Monet. This composition gives the impression of a curtain opening on to a stage. The viewer’s eye is drawn towards the back of the room, towards the illuminated area near the window. In the very centre of the picture, the herringbone pattern of the parquet reinforces the symmetry of the overall view, whilst emphasising the perspective. Then, one after another, one can make out Jean standing slightly to the right, the lamp and the table in the centre, and Camille sitting on the left. The child’s silhouette is reflected on the parquet floor, lit by the daylight from the window. In this interior, “there is a serious attempt to introduce air and light”, as the art critic Gustave Geffroy pointed out in 1894. This silent, intimate scene, an image of everyday family life in Argenteuil, is recreated in a blue-tinted space. This range of colour evokes an atmosphere of tranquillity and poetry, reminiscent of the childhood world of the author Marcel Proust, as he would later describe it in In Search of Lost Time (1913).

 

The Rue Montorgueil Paris Celebration of June 30 1878 (1878) | The Rue Saint-Denis, is often thought to be a celebration of July 14. In fact, it was executed on June 30, 1878 on the occasion of the celebration of the end of the World Fair, a demonstration of national and republican enthusiasm a few months only after the great confrontation between republicans and conservators in 1876-1877. This painting proposes a distanced vision of an urban landscape by a painter who did not mix with the crowd, but observed it from a window. The three colours vibrating in Monet’s painting are those of modern France.The impressionist technique, with its multitude of small strokes of colour, suggests the animation of the crowd and the wavering of flags. This allowed the American historian Philip Nord to write that it perfectly fits the “republican moment” marking the emergence of a democratic society and its roots in contemporary France. With this painting, Monet revealed a hidden aspect of modernity, while simultaneously achieving the work of a “reporter”.

 

Rouen Cathedral. The Porch and St. Riamin Tower, Full Sun. Blue and Gold Harmony (1893) | The Rouen Cathedral series, was painted between 1892 and 1893, although it’s dated 1894.

 

Water Lily basin, pink harmony (1900) | “Nymphaea” is the botanical name for a water lily. Monet grew white water lilies in the water garden he had installed in his property at Giverny in 1893. From the 1910s until he died in 1926, the garden and its pond in particular, became the artist’s sole source of inspiration. He said: “I have come back to things that are impossible to do: water with weeds waving in the depths. Apart from painting and gardening, I am good for nothing. My greatest masterpiece is my garden.”

 

London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog (1904) | The London Houses of Parliament crop up regularly in Monet’s work in the 1900’s. At first the artist observed them from the terrace of St Thomas Hospital, on the opposite bank, near Westminster Bridge. Monet’s London production, which includes views of Charing Cross bridge and Waterloo bridge, is in fact dominated by variations in the light and atmosphere due to the famous London fog, which enveloped the city, especially in autumn and winter. The unreal ghostly outline of Parliament buildings looms up like an apparition. The stone architecture seems to have lost its substance. Sky and water are painted in the same tones, dominated by mauve and orange. The brushstrokes are systematically broken into thousands of coloured patches to render the density of the atmosphere and the mist. Paradoxically, these impalpable elements become more tangible than the evanescent building which seems to dissolve in the shadow.

 

Blue Water Lilies (1916 – 1919) | Monet grew white water lilies in the water garden he had installed in his property at Giverny in 1893. From the 1910s until he died in 1926, the garden and its pond in particular, became the artist’s sole source of inspiration. Eliminating the horizon and the sky, Monet focused on a small area of the pond, seen as a piece of nature, almost a close-up. No details stand out and the overall impression is one of a shapeless surface. The square format reinforces the neutrality of the composition. The lack of a frame of reference gives the fragment an infinite, limitless feeling. Never was the artist’s brushstroke so free, so detached from the description of forms. A close-up view of the canvas gives a feeling of total abstraction, because the brushstrokes are stronger than the identification of the plants or their reflections.

 

Camille Pissarro

The Shepherdess  or the Young Peasant Girl with a Stick (1881)

 

Edgar Degas 

The Ballet Class (1871 – 1874) | Degas regularly went to the Paris opera house, not only as a member of the audience, but as a visitor backstage and in the dance studio, where he introduced by a friend who played in the orchestra. At that time, the opera was still housed in the rue Le Peletier and had not yet moved to the building designed by Garnier which was soon to replace it. From the 1870s until his death, Degas’s favourite subjects were ballerinas at work, in rehearsal or at rest, and he tirelessly explored the theme with many variations in posture and gesture. More than the stage performance and the limelight, it was the training and rehearsals that interested him. Here the class is coming to an end – the pupils are exhausted, they are stretching, twisting to scratch their backs, adjusting their hair or clothes, an earring, or a ribbon, paying little heed to the inflexible teacher, a portrait of Jules Perrot, a real-life ballet master. Degas closely observed the most spontaneous, natural, ordinary gestures, the pauses when concentration is relaxed and the body slumps after the exhausting effort of practising and the implacable rigour of the class. The slightly raised viewpoint looking diagonally across the studio accentuates the vanishing perspective of floor boards. Paul Valéry wrote: “Degas is one of the very few painters who gave the ground its true importance. He has some admirable floors”. This is all the more appropriate for dancers in that the parquet, which was moistened to prevent slipping, is their main work tool. And the ballet master beats time on the floor with his baton.

 

Bronze sculpture named Small Dancer Aged 14 (1821-1831) | When Degas died in 1917, 150 wax or clay sculptures were found in his studio. These statues had remained more or less unknown to the public while the artist was alive, except for Dancer Aged 14 which Degas had shown in the Impressionist exhibition in 1881. Naturally coloured, fitted with real hair, dressed in a tutu and real dancing slippers, it was an example of hyperrealism, verism taken to the extreme. Presented in a showcase like a specimen in the museum, it revealed a Degas bordering on the anthropologist or a naturalist. The critics were not mistaken: the work was violently accused of representing the girl in a bestial manner; she was compared to a monkey or an Aztec; she had a face “on which all the vices imprint their detestable promises, the mark of a particularly vicious character”. Degas thus took realism to its logical conclusion by depicting the society of his time in a barefaced almost scientific way with no shade of hypocrisy. The bronze edition made after his death, including the copy in the Musée d’Orsay, tried to preserve the characteristics of the wax statue as much as possible. The glass cage is the only element that Degas himself wanted, asserting the Dancer’s status as a work of art.

 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 

The  Swing (1876) | A young man seen from the back is talking to a young woman standing on a swing, watched by a little girl and another man, leaning against the trunk of a tree. Renoir gives us the impression of surprising a conversation – as if in a snapshot, he catches the glances turned towards the man seen from the back. The young woman is looking away as if she were embarrassed. The foursome in the foreground is balanced by the group of five figures sketchily brushed in the background. 

  

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre (1877) | Though some of his friends appear in the picture, Renoir’s main aim was to convey the vivacious and joyful atmosphere of this popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre. The study of the moving crowd, bathed in natural and artificial light, is handled using vibrant, brightly coloured brushstrokes. The somewhat blurred impression of the scene prompted negative reactions from contemporary critics. This portrayal of popular Parisian life, with its innovative style and imposing format, a sign of Renoir’s artistic ambition, is one of the masterpieces of early Impressionism.

 

And JL’s personal favourite…

Nude on Cushions (1907) | Renoir’s female nudes, a favourite motif throughout his career, were more often painted in outdoor light than inside a room.
In the 1890s, Gustave Geffroy described his models as “instinctive little beings, at once children and women”. Later, his work became more ample, tracing its descent from Rubens and Titian. For this almost buxom nude, Renoir gave up touches of bright colours and restricted his palette to a harmonious range of more subtle tones. The body bathed in a gentle, warm light is lying on soft cushions like a jewel in a casket. Supple and elegant, the reclining figure is closer to Ingres’s odalisques than Manet’s Olympia. This chaste rather than voluptuous nude is no doubt the last and most elaborate version of a series of three paintings executed between 1903 and 1907, one of which is in the Musée d’Orsay. It is situated chronologically between two other works by Renoir in the Musée d’Orsay: Torso: Effect of Sunlight (1875-1876), an early work, and Bathers (1918-1919), which is characteristic of his last manner.
This Large Nude thus enables us to understand Renoir’s development towards a style nourished by references to classical art. In the twentieth century, artists such Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in their turn took inspiration from Renoir’s later nudes.

 

Cykliniarze (1875) by Gustava Caillebotte | The painting depicts three cykliniarzy working in a rich house. Employee left reaching for a tool and directs his gaze to the companion, thereby suggesting to the viewer attention in the same direction. Cykliniarz on the right side is facing toward the central figure, which suggests the conversation of the workers. Dostające light into the room brightens profiles of all the characters. 

 

The Romans of the Decadence (1847) by  Thomas Couture |  The staging table is reminiscent of Raphael. In the center are the protagonists of the Roman decadence marked by exhaustion (some still dancing) and drunken (a man being evacuated on the left of the table while another, cutting the hand, causes a god. We Note particularly the leading three characters (a young boy sitting on the table and left two men on the right) which does not participate in orgies and seem to disapprove. The scene is surrounded by sculptures of ancient gods, who also condemn this debauchery. The decay is thus surrounded on all sides by criticism. Couture actually uses this ancient scene for himself denounce the decadence of French society of his time, which is sure to be noticed when the presentation of the table. 

 

Despair (1869) by Jean-Joseph Perraud | This marble sculpture was executed in 1869 for the 1869 Salon, after being received with universal acclaim in plaster at the 1861 Salon. The figure, seated on the ground, according to a well-established convention, is intended to be an allegory of the tragic condition of human existence. The figure is without any accessories, and allows the viewer complete freedom of interpretation.

 

Le Dance by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux  (1869) | In 1863, Garnier, the architect of the new Paris Opera, commissioned four sculpted groups by four artists who had won the Grand Prix de Rome to decorate the facade of the building. Carpeaux was to cover the theme of dance. Over a three-year period, he produced a variety of sketches and models before conceiving this turning farandole of women encircling the spirit of dance. The sculptor’s main concern was to convey the feeling of movement, and this he achieved through a dual momentum of circular and vertical motion. The leaping spirit dominates the group, urging on the circle of bacchantes, in unbalanced postures.The public was shocked by the realism of the female nudes, which they judged unseemly; indeed, a bottle of ink was thrown against the sculpture and its removal was requested. However, the war of 1870, followed by the death of Carpeaux, put an end to the controversy.

 

 Sleeping Beauty and her Eagle ??

 

Vincent van Gogh 

The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise (1890) | After staying in the south of France, in Arles, and then at the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy de Provence, Vincent Van Gogh settled in Auvers-sur-Oise, a village in the outskirts of Paris. His brother Théo, concerned with his health, incited him to see the Doctor Gachet, himself a painter and a friend of numerous artists, who accepted to treat him. During the two months separating his arrival, on May 21, 1890 and his death on July 29, the artist made about seventy paintings, over one per day, not to mention a large number of drawings.This is the only painting representing in full the church in Auvers that may sometimes be distinguished in the background of views of the whole village. This church, built in the 13th century in the early Gothic style, flanked by two Romanesque chapels, became under the painter’s brush a flamboyant monument on the verge of dislocating itself from the ground and from the two paths that seem to be clasping it like torrents of lava or mud. If one compares this painting with Claude Monet’s paintings of the cathedral in Rouen, painted shortly afterwards, one can measure how different Van Gogh’s approach was from that of the impressionists. Unlike Monet, he did not try to render the impression of the play of light on the monument. Even though the church remains recognisable, the painting does not so much offer the spectator a faithful image of reality than a form of “expression” of a church. The artistic means used by Van Gogh anticipate the work of the fauvists and expressionist painters.

Dr Paul Gachet (1890) | Inseparably entwined with the last period of Vincent van Gogh’s life in Auvers, Dr Gachet was an original character. He was a homoeopathic doctor interested in chiromancy but his real passion lay with the arts. An accomplished engraver himself, he kept in touch with many different artists including Manet, Monet, Renoir and Cézanne. It was therefore logical for Van Gogh to go to him, on the advice of his brother Theo, when he was discharged from hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Specialised in psychiatry, the doctor did his best to help Vincent overcome his anguish while affording him the material comfort conducive to his well-being. The portrait of the doctor was painted during this particularly intense creative phase. He was no ordinary model and is portrayed in a melancholy pose reflecting “the desolate expression of our time,” as Van Gogh wrote. The only touch of hope in this severe portrait brushed in cold colours is the foxglove which brings a little comfort and relief through its curative properties. Despite his devotion, Dr Gachet was unable to prevent Van Gogh’s irremediable gesture; the artist committed suicide shortly afterwards.

 

Thatched Cottages at Cordeville (1890) | This picture was painted during the artist’s most frenetic creative period, a few weeks before his tragic death. Van Gogh had left Provence in May 1890, at the end of his voluntary stay at the asylum in Saint-Rémy. He moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris. On 10 June, he wrote to his brother Theo that “he was doing two studies of houses out in the countryside”. Corot, Daubigny, Pissarro and Cézanne had already evoked the peaceful charm of Auvers. Van Gogh would transform it into a volcanic land where the houses seem to have been twisted by an earthquake. Here the painter subjects the landscape to a veritable transmutation driven by psychic forces. The peaceful thatched cottages, which can still be seen in old photographs, seem to have been lifted by some powerful telluric force that has dilated them. The wild, swirling design makes the roof undulate, sends the tree branches up in spirals, transforms the clouds into arabesques… Moreover, the image is worked in thick impasto with real furrows gouged into the paint. It is clear that this artist is not overwhelmed as the Romantics were by the awe-inspiring landscape. On the contrary, it is he who torments and inflames the lowliest hovel and the smallest cypress tree. Just as in Starry Night (New York, MoMA) from 1889, all the elements in the landscape unite in distorting their contours and give the whole scene a supernatural air.

 

Self-Portrait (1889) | Like Rembrandt and Goya, Vincent van Gogh often used himself as a model; he produced over forty-three self-portraits, paintings or drawings in ten years. Like the old masters, he observed himself critically in a mirror. Painting oneself is not an innocuous act: it is a questioning which often leads to an identity crisis. Thus he wrote to his sister: “I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer.” And later to his brother: “People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation”. In this head-and-shoulders view, the artist is wearing a suit and not the pea jacket he usually worked in. Attention is focused on the face. His features are hard and emaciated, his green-rimmed eyes seem intransigent and anxious. The dominant colour, a mix of absinth green and pale turquoise finds a counterpoint in its complementary colour, the fiery orange of the beard and hair. The model’s immobility contrasts with the undulating hair and beard, echoed and amplified in the hallucinatory arabesques of the background.

 

The Starry Night (1888) | From the moment of his arrival in Arles, on February 8, 1888, Van Gogh was constantly preoccupied with the representation of “night effects”. In April 1888, he wrote to his brother Theo: “I need a starry night with cypresses or maybe above a field of ripe wheat.” In June, he confided to the painter Emile Bernard: “But when shall I ever paint the Starry Sky, this painting that keeps haunting me” and, in September, in a letter to his sister, he evoked the same subject: “Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day”. During the same month of September, he finally realised his obsessive project. He first painted a corner of nocturnal sky in Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles (Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Muller). Next came this view of the Rhône in which he marvellously transcribed the colours he perceived in the dark. Blues prevail: Prussian blue, ultramarine and cobalt. The city gas lights glimmer an intense orange and are reflected in the water. The stars sparkle like gemstones. A few months later, just after being confined to a mental institution, Van Gogh painted another version of the same subject: Starry Night (New York, MoMA), in which the violence of his troubled psyche is fully expressed. Trees are shaped like flames while the sky and stars whirl in a cosmic vision. The Musée d’Orsay’s Starry Night is more serene, an atmosphere reinforced by the presence of a couple of lovers at the bottom of the canvas.

 

The Siesta (1889 – 1890) |  The Siesta was painted while Van Gogh was interned in a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence. The composition is taken from a drawing by Millet for Four Moments in the Day. To justify his act, Vincent told his brother Theo: “I am using another language, that of colours, to translate the impressions of light and dark into black and white”. Van Gogh often copied the works of Millet, who he considered to be “a more modern painter than Manet”. Remaining faithful to the original composition, even down to the still life details in the foreground, Van Gogh nevertheless imposes his own style upon this restful scene which, for Millet, symbolized rural France of the 1860’s. This highly personal retranscription is achieved primarily by means of a chromatic construction based on contrasting complementary colours: blue-violet, yellow-orange. Despite the peaceful nature of the subject, the picture radiates Van Gogh’s unique artistic intensity.

 

Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles (1889) | Van Gogh produced three, almost identical paintings on the theme of his bedroom. The first, in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was executed in October 1888, and damaged during a flood that occurred while the painter was in hospital in Arles. Almost a year later, Van Gogh made two copies of it: one, the same size, is now in the Art Institute in Chicago; the other, in the Musée d’Orsay, produced for his family in Holland, is smaller. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent explained what had provoked him to paint such a picture: he wanted to express the tranquillity, and bring out the simplicity of his bedroom using the symbolism of colours. Thus, he described: “the pale, lilac walls, the uneven, faded red of the floor, the chrome-yellow chairs and bed, the pillows and sheet in very pale lime green, the blood-red blanket, the orange-coloured wash stand, the blue wash basin, and the green window”, stating “I wanted to express absolute repose with these different colours”. Through these various colours, Van Gogh is referring to Japan, to its crêpe paper and its prints. He explained: “The Japanese lived in very simple interiors, and what great artists have lived in that country” And although, in the eyes of the Japanese, a bedroom decorated with paintings and furniture would not really seem very simple, for Vincent it was “an empty bedroom with a wooden bed and two chairs”. All the same he does achieve a certain sparseness through his composition made up almost entirely of straight lines, and through a rigorous combination of coloured surfaces, which compensate for the instability of the perspective.

 

We were so thrilled to see so many great works by famous Impressionists…

 

Source of Information: Orsay Museum

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