Remise en neuf

marie-antoinettes-country-home-versaillesThe House of Dior is going to restore the Queen’s House at le Hameau, the hamlet on the grounds behind le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s residence at Versailles. This is where she and her ladies-in-waiting played milkmaid, inspired by Rousseau’s noble savage. While the exterior was appropriately rustic, the interiors were swathed in painted silk. Dior’s announcement was timed to coincide with their Fall/Winter 2014 campaign “Secret Garden – Versailles 2.”

dior10It’s not just a cosmetic tweaking that’s needed. To save the dilapidated structure from further decay, the grounds and gardens have to be lowered to protect them from rising damp. Then the whole structure will be shored up. After that, they’ll turn to the interior; the flooring, paneling, and paintwork will be reproduced either based on records of how it looked in the 18th century or the redecoration carried out by the empress Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s second wife, two hundred years ago.

Full-Dior-Secret-Garden-2The expression remise en neuf (ruhmeezehn nuf) means to put something back like new, or renovate. It’s going to be a massive undertaking. The refurbished Queen’s House will open in 2015.

51PTFS8YYXL__SL75_Marie Antoinette: The Journey

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Au destin

2036986-expo-josephine-au-musee-du-luxembourg-gagnez-40-pass-coupe-fileWhen I get to Paris in June, I’ll be just on time to see Joséphine at the musée du Luxembourg. The former Empress of France was an interesting woman. Born on the island of Martinique to a family of sugarcane planters, Joséphine married a young aristocrat named Alexandre Beauharnais. The marriage was unhappy, but produced two children, Eugène and Hortense. Alexandre died on the guillotine during the French Revolution. The widowed Joséphine only narrowly missed the same fate.


Joséphine decided that she needed to find a wealthy sponsor to support herself and her children. To that end, she engaged in a series of affairs. When she met an up-and-coming officer named Napoléon Bonaparte, who was six years her junior, sparks flew. Their passionate correspondence documents a torrid relationship before, during, and yes, even after their marriage. He gave her a wedding band inscribed “Au destin” (oh destahn), or “To destiny.” And what a destiny they shared!



Despite all this passion, neither one remained faithful to the other for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even though Napoléon made her his Empress, when she couldn’t produce an heir, he divorced her. It must have been the strangest divorce ever as they each read statements of devotion to one another. He gave her the beautiful château Malmaison and allowed her to retain the title of Empress. Joséphine caught a cold while walking in the garden of the château and she died just four days later on May 29, 1814.


To mark the two hundredth anniversary of her death, the musée du Luxembourg is presenting personal mementos and major works of art representing Joséphine, Napoléon, and their circle. You’ll notice that she doesn’t show her teeth in any of the pictures. One of my professors told us that Joséphine’s teeth were in rather bad shape after a girlhood spent gnawing on sugar cane. Despite questionable dentition, she cut quite a swath through French society. You’ll meet a woman who loved travel, music, gardens, and fashion. Sounds like someone I’d like to sit next to at a party.

  • 19, rue de Vaugirard
  • Open until June 29, 2014, every day from 10 am to 7:30 pm and until 10 pm on Thursdays

51tHaNBtQSL__SL75_The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine

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Les Années 50

Dior "Bonbon" dress

Dior “Bonbon” dress

Here’s an exhibit I’ll totally be going to see this summer. The Palais Galliera will be presenting a tribute to French fashion of les années 50 (layz anay sankahnt) or the 50s. I love the couture of this decade: the full skirts, the New Look, the pure feminine elegance of it all. While Christian Dior’s “woman-flower” is the one most identified with the decade, there were competing haute couture looks, including Cristobal Balenciaga’s barrel line, distinguished by a flared back, and the simple, straight suits of Coco Chanel.

Jean Dessès chiffon gown

Jean Dessès chiffon gown

But there was another side to fashion during that decade: snug sweaters, pedal pushers, and jeans became the uniform of the post-war generation. Ready-to-wear was the way to keep French couture relevant. Couturiers Associés was born to meet the need.

Madeleine Vramant suit and coat ensemble

Madeleine Vramant suit and coat ensemble

This exhibit, pulled from the Galliera archives, features 100 garments and accessories, from the biggest couture names to those all but forgotten such as Jean Dessès, Madeleine Vramant, and Lola Prusac. Paris had taken a major hit after the stock market crash and the doldrums lasted for almost 20 years. These innovators – both in haute couture and ready-to-wear – returned Paris to its position as the undisputed capital of the fashion world.

  • Palais Galliera
  • 10, avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm and until 9 pm on Thursdays
  • July 12 to November 16, 2014

416JYHm+J-L__SL75_Fifty Fashion Looks That Changed the 1950s

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Paris libéré, Paris photographié, Paris exposé

la-liberation-de-paris-journees-historiquesThis summer is the 70th anniversary of the dramatic events that led up to the liberation of Paris. Opening on June 11 and running until March 1, 2015, the musée Carnavalet will be exhibiting photos that commemorate the arrival of General Leclerc and the Allies: “Paris libéré, Paris photographié, Paris exposé” (pearee leeb-air-ay, pearee foe-toe-graf-ee-ay, pearee ex-poe-zay).

Doisneau LiberationThis isn’t the first exhibit about the Liberation the Carnavalet has mounted. The first was only two and half months later, in November 1944, while France and the Allies were still fighting against the Nazis. The curator, who was also a member of the Resistance, wanted to secure materials that would be “indispensable to the historian of the future.” To that end, he appealed to the press to contribute photos and documents that recorded those final days of occupation. The exhibit was wildly popular, tapping into the emotion of darkness that turned into euphoria.

Doisneau Liberation 2This anniversary exhibit attempts to recreate the original one, with photos by Robert Doisneau, René Zuber, and Jean Séeberger among others. This time, there’s more effort made to contextualize the images by including film from the time, videos of interviews with those who witnessed the Liberation, as well as objects that bear silent witness to the fight of those who lived in Paris during those fraught days.

Robert Doisneau Barricades, Paris, 1944One of the interesting aspects of the exhibit will be the effort to help visitors understand what it’s like to create images during war-time and the role they play in creating a collective memory of events. Sometimes that “memory” is highly subjective, and the same image can be interpreted differently by those who observe it. Did the events that we “remember” actually happen? Interesting stuff.

  • Hôtel Carnavalet
  • 16, rue des Francs-Bourgeois
  • Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm

51pE3uPz+AL__SL75_The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944

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Les Fêtes galantes

9789462300453Do I love the museum better than the lunch? Hmm. That’s a tough one. Either way, the musée Jacquemart-André will be on my must-see list for its exhibit De Watteau à Fragonard, les fêtes galantes (duh vahtoe ah frag-on-ar lay fet gal-ahnt). Fête galante literally means “courtship party.” It refers to a style of painting from early in the 18th century first done by Watteau in which elaborately dressed courting couples frolicked during countryside picnics.

7770541194_de-watteau-a-fragonard-les-fetes-galantes-au-musee-jacquemart-andre-jusqu-au-21-juilletThis exhibit brings together sixty works from important collections in Europe and the United States. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Watteau’s La Fête à Saint-Cloud, which has belonged to the Bank of France for the past 200 years. They hardly ever loan it out, so this exhibit is a rare opportunity to see this painting. In addition to paintings by Watteau, works by his contemporaries François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard are also represented. It will be on until July 21, 2014. And I’ll save room for dessert in the splendid Jacque-mart-André tea room afterward. That way I’ll get to have my cake and eat it, too.

51ePV475eEL__SL75_Antoine Watteau

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Les Impressionnistes en privé

Les-impressionnistes-en-prive-ParisAlfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” For me, the famous line runs more “In the spring a 40-something French teacher’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Paris.” I’ll be heading back sometime in June to start my summer job. I’ve started thinking about what exhibits will be in town when I’m there. I’ll be sharing them with you over the next few weeks.

musee-marmottan-monet-1First up is Les Impressionnistes en privé (layz am-press-e-on-east ohn preevay) or “The Impressionists in private” at the musée Marmottan Monet in the 16th Arrondissement. It’s already on and will continue until July 6, 2014, so I’ll have time to get there. The lovely mansion on the edge of a park became a museum 80 years ago. Thanks to a series of important donations and bequests, it has become one of the best places to see the best of the impressionists, particularly Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot. To honor the many private collectors whose generosity made the museum possible, the Marmottan conceived of an exhibit that celebrates their important acquisitions.

imageFifty collectors from France and around the world enthusiastically signed up to participate in this anniversary exhibit. Most of the one hundred or so works on view have never before been shared with the public. It’s a veritable who’s who of impressionism: from Frédéric Bazille to Alfred Sisley. The works are presented chronologically, from the earliest days of impressionism, through its full flowering, and then to the separation of the individual members on their own paths to creativity, opening the door to the various modern art movements. It’s a must see – at least for this 40-something.

  • Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm, and Thursday until 8 pm.
  • 2 rue Louis Boilly 75016

619AYFK0HBL__SL75_Monet: Late Paintings of Giverny from the musée Marmottan

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Ligne de mire

henricartierThe Centre Pompidou has an exhibit dedicated to Henri Cartier-Bresson, famous for the “decisive moment,” or the photographer’s genius at grabbing a shot at precisely the right moment. The five hundred works on display mark the 10th anniversary of his death. Using more than 500 photographs, as well as his drawings, paintings, films, and documents, bringing together well-known images as well as unknown ones, the exhibit shows not just the history of this photographer, but also the 20th century.

Henri_Cartier-BressonPhotographier c’est mettre sur la même ligne de mire la tête, l’œil et le cœur,” (foe-toe graf-e-ay seh metruh sir lah mem leanyuh duh meer lah tet, loy ay luh kur) said Cartier-Bresson, which means “Photography is to put the head, the eye, and the heart on the same focal point.” (Ligne de mire can also be translated as the line of vision, of sight, or of fire, but since we’re talking about photography, I went for focal point.) I really like this idea of bringing your whole mind and body into harmony with the picture being composed.

Henri Cartier-Bresson Derrière la gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, France, 1932Active from the end of the 1920s until just before his death in 2004, Cartier-Bresson left an inventory of thousands of prints. These have now been carefully sifted and catalogued by the Foundation that bears his name. In addition, its archive of notes, letters and publications are now available to researchers. After all this analysis, the exhibit proposes that simply to categorize this vast body of work as evidence of the “decisive moment” is an oversimplification. The retrospective at the Centre Pompidou shows the richness of the journey of the photographer, his successive shifts, and the various stages of his development. It aims to demonstrate that there were not one, but several Cartier-Bressons.

HCB4From Surrealism to the movement of May ‘68, passing by the Spanish conflict, World War II, decolonization, the Cold War and the post-war boom, the Centre Pompidou retrospective offers, instead of myths and short-cuts, a comprehensive new reading on the work of the most famous French photographer. The exhibit is open until June 9, 2014.

51UP4YxGmwL__SL75_Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here and Now

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