C’est fini!

6EAD08B4-7179-48B4-BEAF-4413525EA19CI 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?

Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)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!

02649BB9-9E83-4996-8C69-8280E3279B747. 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.


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Le Bazar de la Charité

D678F449-7670-459C-A28D-7339CDEDDC3CNetflix has done it again. Here’s another excellent French series to dive into: Le Bazar de la Charité, which is rather loosely translated as The Bonfire of Destiny. It’s Belle Époque Paris, right at the end of the 19th century, and the wealthy men and ladies flock to a charity bazar. When a devastating fire breaks out, it shows some the truth about who they are and while others discover the truth about their friends and loved ones. The series is based on the real story of an 1897 fire that claimed 126 lives, many of them aristocratic women.

245F5498-343A-48A9-804D-EDE716E0CA83The main story centers on actrice Audrey Fleurot’s character. She’s been excellent in so many of my favorite French shows and movies, like
Engrenages (Spiral) and Un village français. One of the recurrent themes is the stifling constraints that limit the lives of women, so the series is more than just an engaging tale with beautiful settings and costumes. Paris looks lovely, too. There are lots of scenes with Notre Dame in the background looking the way we hope to see it again some day soon. And parc Monceau, one of the loveliest in Paris, is also featured. Subtitles and dubbing are available in several languages. I hope you get as caught up in it as I did. 

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Napoleon visitant les pestiférés à Jaffa

E7CEDD21-4BC7-4773-BE58-80CB86202D47French classical painter Antoine-Jean Gros was born on March 16, 1771 in Paris. The son of a painter of miniatures, he studied under Jacques-Louis David. Following the death of his father in 1791, he went to Italy, and it was there that he met Josephine Beauharnais, who introduced him to Napoleon, whom he accompanied on his Italian campaign.

B9EAA0ED-DEBB-4B1F-80FB-6BBCE1B8EB51He was an eye-witness of the dramatic scene when Bonaparte planted the Tricouleur on the bridge at Arcole in November 1796 and the dramatic painting that recorded this incident gave Gros a sense of purpose. Thereafter, as a war artist, he chronicled on canvas the exploits of the Napoleonic army down to the campaign of 1811, and it is on these heroic paintings that his reputation is largely based, earning him the Napoleonic title of Baron in the process.

35EF38B0-AF30-4307-B20E-6F26D0D9D359His most famous painting is Bonaparte visitant les pestiférés à Jaffa (Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Stricken at Jaffa). The downfall of Napoleon robbed Gros of his true vocation.

20EDD298-AEB5-41E1-A540-C7CFC87C35CDIn the aftermath of Waterloo, he returned to his classicist roots and concentrated on such works as Hercules and Diomedes, but by now he was fighting a losing battle against the rising tide of Romanticism. Gros died on June 25, 1835.

68E5CE87-FF90-42FF-9538-20BAF5926DFBRenaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism

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Georges de la Tour

74A19D93-8E9A-4787-8F28-0A4B17840D8DGeorges de la Tour was born in Vic-sur-Seille, France, on March 13, 1593. If you’ve never heard of this town in northeastern France before, I am unsurprised; being de la Tour’s birthplace is its only claim to fame. He moved to Luneville about 1620, where he received many important commissions from the Duc de Lorraine. He also presented one of his paintings to Louis XIII, who was so enchanted by it that he decided to remove paintings by all other artists from his private apartments.

72780234-DF8C-41E5-9659-E7ED41680B80De la Tour concentrated on religious subjects, many of which were rather somber with large areas of dark shadows and muted colors subtly illuminated by a candle to create dark, dramatic and essentially realistic scenes. In this regard, he was heavily influenced by Caravaggio and was, indeed, the leading French exponent of his particular brand of naturalism, although eschewing Caravaggio’s penchant for the macabre. De la Tour’s paintings exude serenity in keeping with their subject matter. Like his paintings, however, he languished in obscurity for many years and was not rediscovered by a German art expert until 1915.

1808F418-EC10-47EA-815F-06596AB1B0C0Georges de la Tour: Paintings


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Zone Blanche

C844FEDE-8FF2-4BC2-AC3D-730B9CEEB2BBI have another French police show on Netflix to recommend to you. Black Spot is the English title of Zone Blanche (zohn blahnsh), or “white zone,” which is the term for a place with unreliable cell service, a dead zone. It reminds me a bit of the feeling of the X-Files because there are brief flashes of comedy among all of the spooky goings-on (but without the hunt for aliens). The principal characters are Major Laurène Weiin the gendarmerie (a branch of the army that also provides rural policing) with a mysterious past, her odd squad, the new procureur (district attorney), and a mayor with his finger in every pie.

DB6F9BED-E9AE-4D08-A59A-6FFA355A437DThe series takes place in Villefranche, a town where everything is a bit off, particularly a murder rate that is six-times the national average. It always seems to be grey or raining. There’s an ominous forest where bodies seem to keep showing up while others mysteriously go missing. Compasses don’t work and, yes, it’s frequently a cell and GPS dead zone. Villefranche is the name of no fewer than thirteen towns in France. Because there are so many, the name is usually coupled with another identifier, such as the name of a nearby river. It’s such a popular name because in ancient France, it was a tax-free zone.

12C8BF7F-C185-4B1F-B76D-4831E78E46ABIf you like your police shows with a healthy dose of the unexplained and unexplainable, this is a good one. There are two seasons (with more to come, I hope) and you can change the language and subtitles to English, if you prefer.

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Honoré Daumier

5E1B0E8F-C1BD-407C-880B-7476592D1915French Realist graphic artist, painter, and sculptor Honoré Daumier was born on February 26, 1808. He was noted above all for his stinging caricatures. Daumier had a deprived childhood, which fueled the campaigning nature of much of his art. His first job, in a bailiff’s office, also left him with a permanent loathing for lawyers and bureaucrats. After learning lithography, however, he was soon in great demand as a political cartoonist, working principally for Le Charivari and La Caricature.

77FC031C-48F3-4471-979A-842526128B04A scurrilous drawing of Louis-Philippe in the guise of Balzac’s Gargantua made Daumier notorious, but also earned him a spell of imprisonment. Undaunted, he branched out into social satire, illustrating the foibles of contemporary society. During his lifetime, Daumier’s paintings were virtually unknown and never provided him with a viable living.

5B6AEC48-E99E-44CB-97DC-1721E5E06299In their general outlook, as objective depictions of modern Parisian life, they can be linked with Courbet’s Realist movement. Stylistically, however, Daumier was an isolated figure. His paintings were shaped by his graphic work, displaying a bold economy of form, subtle characterization and an overall lack of finish. In later years, his eyesight failed and he was only saved from absolute penury by the generosity of fellow painter, Corot.

5CEFCA04-BD98-463E-97C1-C0F7EB869184Daumier, Liberated Women: Bluestockings and Socialists

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Jacques Doucet

8C4587D8-89A7-45F3-BE9F-94C1AF084E0EJacques Doucet, often described as one of the great “old masters” of fashion design, was born on February 19, 1853. As early as 1817, his family established the House of Doucet in Paris, a business specializing in fine linens, lingerie, and later, ladies’ apparel. From 1968, the reputation of the house flourished and attracted talented designers, including Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet, who both trained there.  joined the family business in 1874 and specialized in laces and evening gowns. His design talents quickly attracted the attention of society ladies, actresses, and demi-mondaines alike.

Doucet was especially popular with American clients, and by 1895 merchants from the United States were buying his models both to retail and copy, all of which contributed to making Doucet one of the biggest Parisian houses by the start of the 20th century. Jacques Doucet was a fervent art collector and connoisseur, and his designs were often inspired by the 18th-century paintings he collected.

F8B51DDC-B3D3-4F6B-8FB1-94CA5897587EHis romantic, luxurious, but eminently wearable creations always had a feminine, elegant, and airy feel. He worked in a palette of neutral pastels, often superimposing different colors to create a play of tones when the dress was in motion. He became particularly famous for his dresses made entirely of luxurious and costly gros point de Venise – a 17th-century Venetian lace characterized by large scrolling floral motifs. For decoration, he favored lace ruffles, silk ribbons, delicately dyed ostrich feathers, intricate beadwork, and high-quality lace, again in muted tones.

Although his dresses were among the best romantic and historic designs, he was not only a designer  trapped in the past – he also produced practical tailleurs, which were some of the most desirable available. He was also an innovator in matters of fur, treating and manipulating it like fabric; his fitted fur coats were popular with women of all ages. Doucet knew his market and realized more mature women were not inclined to follow the latest fashion follies; hence his more conservative, romantic styles remained popular for most of the decade.

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