La silhouette

gallery-wall-silouhettes-2My husband has been a difficult man to shop for for the over thirty years that I have known him. But that is now a matter of the past. As I’ve mentioned, since moving to New England, we’ve started regularly prowling around antique shops. I started to notice silhouettes in shop after shop. Then I saw an article in Architectural Digest about art advisor Will Kopelman, Drew Barrymore’s husband, and the dressing room / office he created that featured a wall of silhouettes. I could picture them massed on the stairway wall of our home. I showed the picture in the magazine to my husband, hoping that he’d think the same way. I “subtly” asked him if he could be interested in collecting silhouettes and it turns out that he had been noticing them right along with me and was totally amenable to becoming a collector. Choirs sang! I finally had something I could buy my husband for Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day… Yippee!

fig12The word silhouette (sill-oo-et) comes from Étienne de Silhouette, the 18th century French finance minister. In 1759, France was in the throes of the Seven Year’s War, causing Silhouette to impose an austerity program to try to dig the country out of its credit crisis. His name became linked with anything done or made cheaply, just like the outline portraits that were the least expensive way to record someone’s appearance in a pre-photography world.

8319We’re by no means experts, but we’ve learned that the “real” silhouettes, cut from dark paper and applied to a light background are rare and expensive – hundreds to thousands of dollars each. What are more common, and much less expensive, are prints that date from early in the 20th century. Wallace Nutting, from right around the area where we live, is the most famous of these purveyors of silhouette prints. These prints will, no doubt, form the backbone of our collection, but it’ll be a pleasure to assemble it, one gift to my husband at a time.

51uOvsNeF5L__SL75_Silhouettes: Rediscovering the Lost Art

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Un bouton de manchette

ladyofcamelliasI recently turned twenty-nine-and-a-half and my husband pulled out all the stops. After all, it’s not every day that one turns twenty-nine-and-a-half for the first time. One of the events that he planned was a matinee performance of Lady of Camellias, by the Boston Ballet. The story was based on the novel La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The ballet adaptation has music by Frédéric Chopin and choreography by Val Caniparoli.

dameauxcameliasThis was our first time at the Boston Ballet, and it may not have been the best ballet by which to judge them. The costumes were beautiful; the settings caused spontaneous applause, and it’s pretty hard to top Chopin. On the other hand, some of the choreography in this very melodramatic ballet was downright silly. For instance, when the rival lovers for the affections of poor consumptive Marguerite squared off, they appeared to menacingly tug their boutons de manchette (boo-tohn deh mahn-shet), or cufflinks, at one another. Say what? We have had a good time parodying this bizarre gesture since. I’ve never read the book, but now I’d like to in the hope that I can solve this mystery.

lotcvishnevagomes3gsIt was a great birthday. I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning to turn twenty-nine-and-a-half again next year.

41zQS1yPy9L__SL75_Lady of the Camelias

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Un cœur qui bat

SS123Crystal1-1406735359We went off on an antiquing exploration between snow storms today. This time we went to West Townsend, Massachusetts, forty-five miles northwest of Boston. There were three worthwhile spots to visit – the Hobart Village Antique Mall has new and reproduction pieces at a variety of price points and Antiques Associates at West Townsend has some pretty spectacular American and English pieces.

imageBut the most spectacular shop was definitely Delaney Antique Clocks. Tall case clocks, carriage clocks, wall clocks – this huge shop is full of the gentle sound of ticking and chiming clocks. It was like un cœur qui bat (uhn kur key bah), a heartbeat of a living organism. Although the shop prides itself on having the largest selection of American tall clocks in the country, there are plenty of French beauties as well. There was a spectacular French crystal regulator with a beautiful porcelain bust of a woman.

swinger_large-1361292213The clocks that I liked best, however, were the French “Mystery” or “Swinger” clocks, so-called because of the mystery of how the swinging pendulum works. The ball at the top of the pendulum itself contains the clock mechanism that swings because of a weight inside it that is counterbalanced by another at the bottom. They’re great pieces of sculpture to boot. If you’re anywhere near Boston, this is a must-see destination.

51VM3WJB9ML__SL75_French Bronze Clocks 1700 – 1830    

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Quai d’Orsay

The_French_Minister-675722842-largeI’ve had a bit of a crush on Dominique de Villepin since his speech before the U.N. in 2003. He is eloquent, handsome, and suave. What’s not to love? Well, possibly quite a lot.

Last week, I watched a hilarious 2013 French comedy entitled The French Minister on Netflix. Thierry Lhermitte plays Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, a character clearly based on the dashing de Villepin. The intellectual with the aristocratic demeanor was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and then Prime Minister during Jacque Chirac’s final years in office. The film is from the point of view of de Vorms’ speech-writer who strives mightily to satisfy a capricious boss who spouts obscure citations from Greek philosopher and constantly changes his mind about the contents of his speeches. De Vorms slams doors and makes papers swirl in his wake as he frenetically strides about the Ministry.

the-french-ministerThe French title of the film is Quai d’Orsay (kay dor-say), named after the building that houses the Ministry of foreign Affairs. The Ministry swarms with staffers with their own agendas and each one has something to say about what should be in the all-important U.N. speech. The voice of reason is embodied by the unflappable Claude Maupas; for this role Niels Arestrup won the 2014 César for Best Supporting Actor. If you follow French politics, I think you’ll get a big chuckle out of The French Minister, even if it did knock de Villepin off the pedestal I’d put him on.

516rxs4qmZL__SL75_The French Minister

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Un cambriolage

imageIn our ongoing quest to escape the winter of 2015, we went back to an old favorite, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They’ve loosened up the rules prohibiting photography just enough to allow pictures of their glorious courtyard. The light in the museum is always subdued to preserve the artworks, but when the glass roof is largely obscured by snow, it brings a new meaning to subdued. Still, what a beautiful sight!

imageThe museum represents the collection of Isabella and Jack Gardner. Isabella Stewart was attending finishing school in Paris when her friend introduced her to her brother, Jack. The Gardners made their home among the elite of Boston society. The pair roamed the world on the recommendation of their physician to help Mrs. Gardner get over a depression brought about by the tragic loss of their only child a few months before his second birthday. They particularly fell in love with Venice. In addition to great works of art, they also bought bits and pieces of Venetian palazzi back to Boston. The Gardners were early adopters of recycling, as they used this architectural salvage to create a rather idiosyncratic house-museum in the then-unfashionable Fenway district. The collection is, naturally, largely devoted to Italian works, principally sacred art. There are, however, some notable French works, particularly among the sketches.

imageThe museum was the victim of a rather notorious cambriolage (kam-bree-oh-lahj), or burglary, in 1990. Among the works taken were several drawings by Degas and a rather fine Manet. (Rather more famous were the three stolen Rembrandts and a Vermeer.) Curiously, the thieves also made off with an eagle that once topped a Napoleonic military flag. With all the treasures to choose from, this is a particularly random-seeming selection. According to Mrs. Gardner’s will, nothing can ever be moved, so the empty frames remain on view, haunting reminders of this unsolved art heist. I hope the paintings are somewhere safe, as there is at least a hope of their recovery.

imageWhile the museum is worth a visit during any season, we’ll definitely head back in the spring to enjoy the newly-developed garden areas. With eight feet of snow having fallen on Boston this past month, the grass may actually appear sometime around June!

51gzuEovaJL__SL75_The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

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La dactylographie

populaire-romain-duris-deborah-francoisIf you’re looking for a rom-com to watch on Valentine’s Day, you might like Populaire, a 2012 film starring Romain Duris and Déborah François. Here’s the trailer, and it’s available on Netflix in French sub-titled in English. Set in 1958, the film takes on what it meant to be a modern young woman. Rose Pamphyle has only one talent – la dactylographie (lah dak-tea-loh-graph-e) or typing. Like many young women of the post-war years, Rose wants to be a secretary. She leaves her Nowheresville town in Normandy for a job in an insurance office in Lisieux, which is only slightly less Nowheresville. Her boss has a plan for Rose – to enter and win a typing competition. I won’t give away the rest, except to say that it gave me a few good laughs as I rooted for Rose the typist and the young woman with dreams of a career and the love of her life.

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Le brouillard

imageThe snow just hasn’t quit falling in New England for the past few weeks. This weekend, we thought that a visit to the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has recently re-opened after extensive renovations by Renzo Piano. Now the building is flooded with light from a glass ceiling. The collection can be enjoyed in about two and a half hours. Of course, it was the French art that particularly caught my attention.

hareI thought that the painting of a hare by 18th-century artist Anne Vallayer-Coster was particularly fine. I had never given much thought to still-life paintings until a course I took at the Louvre a few years ago. Vallayer-Coster uses a palate limited to browns in a painting that shows the texture of disparate objects, the smooth texture of a jug, a coarse rope, and the incredibly tactile fur of the central figure of the hare. Photos of this particular painting weren’t permitted, so I’m limited to showing you this small one here.

imageThe collection of Maurice Wertheim was a fabulous group of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. This enviable collection of masterpieces by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh gathered in one room was worth the price of admission by itself. Another bequest provided the museum with works by David, Ingres, Renoir, Rodin, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

imageThe word for fog in French is le brouillard (luh brew-e-ar). Even in the dead of winter, the light of the Fogg Museum will banish any foggy feelings that you may be experiencing. It’s definitely worth exploring if you are near Boston.

51ZSYcVktkL__SL75_Degas to Matisse: The Maurice Wertheim Collection

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