French painter Nicolas Poussin was born on June 15, 1594 in Normandy, making him 425 years old later this week. He is identified with the Classical period, that is, representations of stories from mythology or the Bible that comprise the backbone of the Italian Renaissance movement. He moved to Paris to study art, but then went straight to the source – Rome – to study the Italian masters first hand. He was particularly influenced by Raphaël and Bernini. Poussin spent most of his life there, executing commissions for Cardinal Barberini.
Eschewing the increasingly popular Baroque style, he clung to Classicism and became its greatest French exponent. Poussin drew upon the rich store of Greek and Roman mythology for his subjects, while utilizing the techniques of color developed by Titian. His greatest canvases deal with vast subjects, crowd scenes crammed with action and detail. Later in life, Poussin tended to concentrate more on landscapes, although still steeped in the Classical tradition. Joyeux anniversaire, Nicolas!
Nicolas Poussin: Drawings and Paintings
I love a good period drama, all those gorgeous costumes and lavish sets! And they’re even better if they take place in France. I just finished A Little Chaos on Netflix, starring Kate Winslet as a fictitious garden designer, Sabine de Barra, who is tasked with creating one of the garden features of Versailles. Le Nôtre, the great landscape designer, is played by Mattias Schoenaerts (from Suite Française). While he is obsessed with rigorous order in his professional designs, his personal life is in turmoil. De Barra and loves color and looser plantings, so of course, a romance develops between the opposites. The film takes enormous liberties, portraying Louis XIV as a gentle, grieving widower, rather than as the power and image obsessed Sun King. It’s not a fabulous film – a little slow and maudlin at times – but it’s lovely to see another side of the great French palaces and the soundtrack is quite delightful.
The Gardens of Le Nôtre at Versailles
Painter Frère Luc was born Claude François in Amiens, France in May 1614. There is no record of the exact day, so we’ll just wish him a happy 403rd birthday today. Before he became a monk, he trained under Simon Vouet in Paris, and then he went to Rome to study the great Masters. He returned to Paris in 1639, where he worked on the redecoration of the Louvre. In 1641, he joined the Franciscan Order, taking the name Frère Luc, and thereafter, most of his paintings were devoted to the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi, which he executed for various monasteries.
In 1670, he went to Québec, mainly as the architect in charge of the rebuilding of the monastery there. At the end of 1671, he returned to Paris and resumed his work as a painter of religious works. He is now chiefly of interest for the work he produced while in Québec and these paintings influenced later generations of French-Canadian artists. He died in May 17, 1685 back in Paris, France.
French Painting in the 17th Century
I saw a very good French film on Netflix this week. The English title is Lady J, but the French title is the much more difficult to say Mademoiselle de Joncquières. This 2018 film was based on an 18th century story by Denis Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître. Cecile de France plays Madame de la Pommeraye who decides to exact revenge on her former lover, played by Edouard Baer, by setting him up with a woman who is calculated to break his heart.
The costumes are gorgeous and definitely merit the César that they won for costume design. The two principal actors were similarly honored with Meilleur Actrice and Meilleur Acteur awards. The lavish period interior and exterior shots kept me trying to figure out where the movie had been filmed. I hope that you enjoy it!
Jacques le fataliste et son maître
Mother’s Day was cold and wet in the Boston area, so we decided to spend some time at the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art. Before social media, there were posters, and Toulouse-Lautrec had a gift of conveying all the sizzle of demi-monde clubs and cabarets in the advertising art that was splashed on walls around Paris.
“Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris” explores the connections between the artist and the careers he helped launch. Intermingled with his posters, drawings and paintings are the works of artists who inspired him, like Degas, or who were inspired by the same subject matter of horse racing and brothels. In addition, there are other artifacts of the times, such as clothing and memorabilia. I loved the film footage of fin de siècle Paris and some of the dance hall acts.
Lautrec died of complications of alcoholism and syphilis at the age of only 36, but he left behind a substantial body of work. It’s amazing to me that so many of the advertising posters, which were always intended to be ephemeral have survived. The bright colors and exuberance chased away the nasty weather blues. The exhibit is on until August 4, 2019.
Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris
Next month, I’m heading back to France! Each summer, I work at a study abroad program in one of the best neighborhoods in Paris. My employer will fly me over prior to the program or allow me to return home later, so I usually tack on a week of vacation either before or after the program. I try to visit a region or city I haven’t been to before. This year, I have decided to go to Aix-en-Provence.
I last went to Provence two years ago and nearly melted on the cobbled pavement. I stayed in Avignon for the week after the program ended and it was HOT, over 40 degrees Celsius every day – that’s about 104 degrees Fahrenheit! I needed a siesta in the afternoon and it greatly cramped my ability to get out and see things. Roman ruins in the noonday sun and not a speck of shade? I don’t think so. So, I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be so ennervatingly hot in the third week of June.
What do those of you who have already been to Aix suggest? I know that I want to take a drive to the lavender fields, and I’ve heard that Aix is famous for its 130 fountains. Of course, I always plan to visit the museums and churches. And no trip to Aix would be complete without paying hommage to its native son, Paul Cézanne. What about other day trips? Is Cassis a must see? And I have tons of recommendations for pâtisseries, but relatively few for places for dinner. Please add to mon carnet d’addresses (mohn kar-nay dad-ress), or “my contact list.” I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Provence and the Côte d’Azur