I just finished what may be the longest, and certainly heaviest, tome of my life. Paris, City of Art, by Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos, was an anniversary gift from my very nice husband in about 2008. Since the book weighs about twelve pounds (I checked, but it feels more like twenty), reading it was a bit of a workout. It took me the better part of three months to complete its 700 pages of photos and text, but, thanks to the mandate to stay home, I finally finished it!
The book presents a historical chronology of art and art movements as experienced in Paris. And what are my takeaways to (possibly) justify three months and 700:pages?
1. Artists copy one another – a lot. A case in point is Gustave Courbet’s Les Demoiselles des bords de Seine (above) and Pablo Picasso’s painting of the same name, but nearly 100 years later (below). I preferred Courbet’s version.
2. Paris was really nowhere artistically until the reign of Louis XIV. Before the Sun King, it was Italy who ruled the art world and the French imported their art and artists.
3. Middle Ages statuettes of the Virgin and Child have a curve known as “gothic slouch” because of the shape of the elephant tusks they were carved from.
4. A gisant is a full-body effigy on a tomb. They were carved as though the person was standing, so the folds of their clothing and their hair doesn’t reflect how it would really be on their pillows of eternal rest.
5. How could I not know that there is a gothic château and chapel that are open to visitors in the bois de Vincennes on Paris’ eastern edge? When Covid-19 lets me travel again, I’m checking them out.
6. I knew that the Louvre had been added onto throughout the centuries, but I’d never seen the over-the-top design proposed by Italian court-favorite Carlo Rainaldi. My oh my!
7. I had never seen the painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry Le Canard blanc before, possibly because it’s in a private collection, but I thought it was just wonderful. If said private collector would like to share it with me, I promise to take very good care of it and hang it in a place where I can admire the infinite tonal and textural variations.
8. Le Musée national d’Arts et Métiers has a fascinating interior, including the chapel of the former abbey of Saint-Martin-des-Champs.
So, I’m chock-full of fascinating tidbits about the art of Paris in its myriad forms and across two millennia with which to regale fellow-travellers. I will not, however, be lugging the original book along for reference.