Previously on "Clash of Cultures"...The kids, Pierre, my mom and I were celebrating my son's 7th birthday with some adorable English cupcakes (peggyporschen.com), but alas, it was time to Eurostar it back to Paris.
The kids were still on vacation, so a lot of time was spent entertaining them, including taking them to the new Spielberg Tintin movie (too many chase scenes, but animation not as creepy as I'd feared) and the animated French film Un Monstre à Paris (sweet story, good music, NO reason for it to be in 3D). But my mother and I did manage to get away to a couple of museum exhibits as well.
The first was entitled "Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso...l'aventure des Steins" at the Grand Palais, which is probably the number one place in Paris for big travelling exhibitions. The exhibit regrouped a huge number of paintings that once were in the possession of Gertrude Stein, her brother Leo and her sister-in-law Sarah, who all lived in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.
Like a lot of people ("Midnight in Paris" anyone?), I love this period of Parisian art history, although I know surprisingly little about any of the Steins other than Gertrude. For instance, I did not know it her brother Leo was one of the first to support avant-garde (for their time) artists like Manet, Cézanne, Degas and Renoir and was also a huge early supporter of Picasso (until cubism put him off completely).
I also had no idea about the close and lasting friendship between Sarah Stein and Matisse, who often borrowed objets d'art and textiles from her to put in his still-lifes. I also heard for the first time about how 19 Matisse paintings that Sarah and her husband Michael loaned to a gallery in Berlin in 1914 were subsequently seized by the German government and never returned. Good times.
In other words, this is an exhibit that is fascinating from both an artistic and a historical perspective and includes many early paintings from Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir and others that I had never seen before, as they ended up being scattered across small art museums in Europe and America when the Steins finally sold off their collections.
I presume this exhibit will hit the major American cities at some point so I highly recommend checking it out. Even if the story of the Steins doesn't you interest you at all, there is some amazing art to be seen.
One of the best things about having visitors is that is forces you to revisit parts of the city you don't regularly go. My mom is a huge impressionist and post-impressionist fan, so it seemed like a perfect excuse to go back to the Musée d'Orsay, which I hadn't seen in a couple of years. The museum, housed in a former train station, is a gorgeous building but was notoriously hard to navigate. Recently, it underwent a face-lift, rearranging some of the exhibition spaces, improving the signage and repainting the walls.
This last may seem kind of trivial, but in fact it makes a major difference. I read a statement by one of the museum's directors that pointed art that only abstract art looks good on a white background and that it would have been nearly unheard of in the 19th century to hang a painting on a white background. Consequently, the museum's walls have been painted varying shades of blues and greens that really make the colors of the Manets, Monets, Bonnards and Van Goghs really stand out, as if they'd all had a good cleaning. Amazing what the right lick of paint can do (score one for HGTV!)
The downstairs temporary exhibition space has been greatly expanded, so in addition to the classics, we also saw a stunning exhibit about the aesthetic movement in England called in English "The Cult of Beauty" and in French (I translate) "Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde."( This might give you a little insight into the difference between the English and French writing styles).
The show explores the aesthetic movement popular in England in the second half of the 19th century, which centered around the idea of "beauty for beauty's sake" not only in paintings, but in textiles, furniture and literature (lots of Wilde quotes from "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" adorned the walls).
While this probably made for a lot of pretentious dandy-esque blather in the London salons, it also resulted in some truly beautiful pieces. My mother and I particularly coveted the William Godwin furniture and Christopher Dresser tea set. Before the renovations, we may have gotten away with slipping something under our coats, but now the lighting is just too damned good.
I'm not sure whether this exhibit is travelling anywhere else, but most of the pieces came from the V&A in London, which apparently has undergone it's own renovation lately, so one more excuse to head across the pond again next year. Who's up for meeting me there?