Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Fueled by Macarons
And now, I am home. From Paris. Two nights, six museums, and countless macarons. Lots of walking, lots of metro and cab rides, and not nearly as many photos as I usually take. Yet again I was reminded of why Paris draws me back time and time again, despite the fact that there are so many other parts of the world I want to see.
This was also a slightly unusual trip in that Paris wasn't a starting point or end point - it was THE point. For some reason, when I go to the UK, what I am really doing is "going to London". I rarely leave London. I don't say "I'm going to Devon" and happen to stop in London - I start in London and usually stay there. With my visits to Paris, I'm usually on my way somewhere. Provence. Normandy. The Loire Valley. Paris starts and ends the trip. This time, I stayed, and now that I am home, I wish I had stayed longer.
This was a mission. A Monet mission. January 24th, 2011, was the very last day of the last weekend of the large, (nearly) unprecedented Monet exposition at the Grand Palais in Paris. In conjunction with the Musee d'Orsay (but NOT in conjunction with the Musee Marmottan, and more on that later), this exhibit gathered almost 200 Monet paintings from where they had scattered in the past 100 years. Museums from around the world, as well as some private collectors, lent their treasures to this exhibit. To handle the crowds during this last weekend the Grand Palais opened their doors 24/7 until Monday night.
What made this expo very special is that the organizers brought together paintings which were of the same locale only at different times of day or year, and placed them side by side so that you could more easily see Monet's genius with capturing light. I planned well in that I bought a Carte Sesame (year long pass to the Grand Palais) before leaving for Paris which meant I did not stand in line for five hours like many others did (including, apparently, Jody Foster - where were her planners??)
Also during this weekend I visited five other museums in addition to the Grand Palais. Only one was on Saturday (Musee Maillol - Treasures of the Medicis) and then on Sunday a total of five. Yes, it's as exhausting as it sounds. I had a lot of macarons on this trip for sugar jolts!
Most if not all of the photos were taken with my Canon 7D.
The day I arrived I plowed through my jet lag. I dropped my bags at my hotel and started walking and did not stop until dinner time at 730. I had mapped out a few places to shop in the 6th arrondissement before I left home and set out with those in mind. Gerard Mulot was the first stop (croissants and yes, macarons) and from there I just meandered. It was drizzly when I left the hotel so I only took my pocket camera along.
A quick word about my hotel: I stayed at the Hotel des Grands Hommes, 10 steps from the Pantheon (and you've seen AUX GRANDS HOMMES... on the Pantheon face, right?). This was my second stay here, and it's a fantastic choice. Three stars, and this time was 410 euros for the two nights. There was a big fashion show in town which is why winter prices rivaled summer prices. My room was a small double with a large bathroom. The bathroom easily would have matched a large double. Tile floors with plenty of room to move around, a spacious sink/counter, large tub, and almost-floor-to-ceiling "french windows" which opened inwards. Very light even without the lights on, in other words. The towel racks were heated - oh marvelous. The Boulevard St Michel is the border on the 6th arrondissement so you are just a few blocks from the 6th which makes it great for sightseeing and walking. I later learned that Andre Breton used to live in the building - nonetheless I would not call this hotel surreal (get it, get it?)
Here is a photo of a street just a block away from the hotel:
During my day's walk, I stumbled across the Musee Maillol on rue de Grenelle which was a happy chance. I knew about the Medicis exhibit and had it on my "list of options", but I'm not sure I would have made the point to go there otherwise as I was happy just bouncing from street to street. This tiny museum, founded in 1995, has numerous works of art from some pretty famous names. Cezanne. Degas. Matisse. Picasso. Raoul Dufy. Odilon Redon. Gauguin. Rodin. Now, this museum is directed by the Italian Renaissance expert Patrizzia Nitti. I wanted to see the "Treasures of the Medicis, Botticelli to Galileo" exhibit so I was glad I stumbled across the museum. If you know me at all, I am a Florence Freak and have been enamored of the Medicis ever since I read The Agony and the Ecstasy. Yes, the exhibit did have one Michaelangelo, on loan from the Bargello ("Apollo-David"). It is not surprising that there would be a Medici exhibit in Paris. Catherine de Medicis was the wife of King Henry II of France and was herself a patron of the arts. As an aside, you will see many Medicis references in Paris. Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens (and a street outside the gardens). A hotel where Jim Morrison stayed. No doubt others.
After this museum I walked over to the rabbit's warren of streets near the Seine (still in the 6th) and eventually back to my hotel (but not before a Kir Royale and more macarons - Laduree this time). Dinner was at Le Petit Prince de Paris - a known quantity near the hotel because I was too tired to think at this point. Another Kir Royale. And a foie gras starter. And Bordeaux... Lights out at 11 PM.
Sunday I was up and at 'em at 7 AM! I had breakfast and in hindsight it would have been a good idea to have gone to the Monet expo right then as it was open 24/7. Get in early, still fresh, and then plan the rest of the day - instead of dragging myself around at my fifth museum stop that day as I did. Instead, I took a look at my options and decided to just GO FOR IT. I was going to hit all the Monets that I could that day. Monet, Monet, Monet! And in the end - another Monet to round it out. And not to be undone, the Petit Palais had a great exhibit that my friend Jody alerted me to. Because the Petit Palais is across the street from the Grand Palais I made a point to visit there as well.
BUT FIRST: markets. My hotel was not far from Rue Mouffetard which has a nice Sunday morning market. I was all of five minutes away from the Rue but when I got there (still early - barely daylight) I didn't see anything set up yet. I wandered down to Rue Monge and then back up to Place de la Contrescarpe.
Balzac, Hemingway, and Orwell once strode these narrow streets. Now they could indulge in a Haagen Dazs. How the Place de la Contrescarpe has changed!
I decided to walk down towards the Boulevard St Germain where I knew a market would be in progress.
Success! The Place Maubert market is one I visit on nearly every visit because I am always nearby. Here below is a photo of what I wish I had bought, but in the end I bought some pottery. The doorknobs would have been a lot easier to get home and in fact I think the pottery tipped the balance and I had to check both bags home. Or maybe it was the winter coat I bought. Or the big sweaters. Nah, it was the pottery.
Musee Marmottan first. They got into a spat with the Grand Palais (apparently the curator of the Grand Palais insulted the curator of the Marmottan - and it made it into print) and refused to lend their own collection. Yes, Impression Sunrise was not at this grand expo. The Marmottan had a dueling exhibit at which they cleared out their cupboards and put their own collection on display. They even opened the above ground floors of the mansion for this exhibit. It was quite crowded despite the opening of the entire mansion. The contrast between this one, and the one at the Grand Palais, was intriguing. For starters, every last item, painting, letter, object... belonged to the Marmottan (to my knowledge). They did not borrow anything. That alone is impressive. They had far more weeping willows (saule pleurer) and waterlilies (nympheas) than did the Grand Palais. They had, as mentioned, the very first painting which startled the world and which started Impressionism down its track (cynics would say the track to gracing dentists' offices and cheapo beachside art galleries in Florida, but not me!)
Musee Rodin was second and because I had heard that they were having a mini-exhibit. Rodin and Monet were contemporaries and friends. This museum showed their one Monet along with some letters the two had sent to each other. I hadn't been to the Rodin before so despite the one Monet it was worth it. I did find it amusing that they were trying to cash in on Monet fever - it worked on me, anyway. Ironic to think I had seen a great Rodin exhibit in Vienna only a few months ago. Rodin was also a contemporary of Klimt and the Lower Belvedere had an impressive retrospective of many of his famous works: the Bourgeois de Calais (Burghers of Calais), Eve, The Kiss... but not the Porte de l'Enfer (Gates of Hell). It was HUGE and I can see why they didn't even attempt to move them. The Upper Belvedere houses many Klimts in case you were wondering what the connection was. I was suitably impressed with the mansion and even took a photo of Les Invalides which you could see through the window.
The Musee d'Orsay offers a "passport" with the Rodin Museum and because it was only 2 euros more, I bought it and visited there next. Many of their Monets were at the expo, however, apparently the Orsay pulled several out of their attic that were not seen before and placed them on display. That was a treat. I also saw some paintings that were recently given to the Orsay, for instance, Bouguereau, whom I must now look up. I noticed that the Bouguereau which were highlighted were given to the Orsay "in lieu of taxes". I assume this means estate taxes.
Museum number four on Sunday was the Petit Palais which is across the street from the Grand Palais. The exhibit was Reporters without Borders which highlighted 100 photos by Pierre & Alexandra Boulat. Father and daughter photographers, and both well known and regarded in their own right. I read that she was roughly my age, but I didn't know until near the end of the exhibit that she died 3 years ago of a brain aneurysm. She was an award winning photographer who has graced Time and National Geographic. She was especially known for her war photography - Kosovo and Iraq for example. Her father, Pierre, was a Life photographer and was known for his photos of celebrities and fashion designers among others. He died in 1998. I read, just this morning (Jan 27) that new photos of Brigitte Bardot, taken by Pierre when she was just 17, have surfaced.
Last on my dance card for Sunday (but certainly far from least) was the Monet Expo at the Grand Palais. Note the photo I took - it was just a snippet of the crowd below. I am so glad I got the Carte Sesame before this trip! Talk about trip planning success. You are not allowed to take photos inside. Not that my photos would do any of them justice. Here is the website for it, which will tell the tale far better than I:
This Exposition was only four months in total, but it broke records for attendance. It was the most attended art exhibit in France in the past 40 years with nearly a million visitors (its visitors rivaled the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Petit Palais across the street, which attracted 1.2 million visitors in 1967). This was the first time since the '80s that this many diverse Monets were gathered all in one space.
I was impressed by the museums from all over the world who lent their artwork. A few shoutouts: National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (thank you very much) lent five which was more than the Art Institute in Chicago but one less than Boston MFA. In fact while I am on the topic, the top three donors for this event were the Musee d'Orsay, the Boston MFA, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Several came from London, but different galleries. Birmingham, Alabama. Fort Worth, Texas. Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. There were a number of paintings from private collections, which was just mind-blowing. No names, the placard merely said, coyly, "collection particuliere". The one which was lent from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida, haha) I lingered a little longer. To think it would not have been that long ago and I simply would not have had the opportunity to even see that painting, ever (the Woman in the Garden in case you were wondering). Zurich. Stockholm. Budapest. Canberra. And on and on and on.
The paintings were arranged by theme and more or less followed the times of his life, from youth to old age. Normandy was well represented (he grew up there) as was his time in Argenteuil and Vetheuil with his family. He left Argenteuil because it was getting too crowded and commercialized in the late 1800s - how funny is that. At some point he was back to painting in Paris.
They showed numerous paintings of his winter scenes. When you think of Monet naturally you envision a riot of color and huge canvases. By contrast, many of these were relatively small and intimate - and shades of black, grey, white and brown. Simple, stunning and elegant. I especially liked the one titled "Ice floes on the Seine at Bougival". There were several portraits, and several paintings showing normal family life such as dinner time. Those too were darker and not lighthearted.
They showed several from his travels, for instance, London, Holland, Venice and the well-known Rouen cathedral series. Naturally there were several painting which depicted Giverny which was his home for the last half of his life. Most poignant of all were those of his wife Camille. She died so young, when Monet was only 39 years old. The last painting of this set was one from her deathbed. Very sad. You could feel his pain in the brushstrokes.
Near the end of the exhibit were the poppies... the water lilies... and the ladies with umbrellas.
A note about the presentation. I went on the final weekend which was open 24 hours. I would be curious to know if the crowd inside ever let up. The first few rooms were madness. Stifling and far too many people. I had no choice but to shuffle along the very front row, right up close to the paintings. At 5'4" I am far too short to see over people's shoulders had I given up my prized spot up front. That made for slow going at first, however, much like a long race, the wheat is separated from the chaff pretty quickly and by room four the herd had thinned just enough that I could stand back several feet from paintings. To my chagrin when I first arrived the audio guide ladies had completely run out of English audio guides. It was a 45 minute wait. I opted to go without. I probably coulda shoulda had a seat for a while and then started because the vestiaire had such a long line I also opted to wear my coat and carry my bags. A camera around the neck and heavy messenger bag will take its toll - remember I had been on my feet 12 hours at this point! Finally at the very end I waited in the crush of people to get my expo catalog which is marvelous (I decided against buying the official poster of the exhibit because of the jarring advertisements which ran across the bottom of it. To think Claude Monet left Argenteuil for being too commercial....indeed). I am excited to learn that Google has just started an art project online and I will be interested to see how many of these make it online eventually.
Whew. Whew, I say. I staggered back out into the fresh air and started walking. I finally hailed a taxi, and threw myself into the back seat and sunk down. Home, Jacques. After dropping my stuff at the hotel, I found myself sitting at Le Perraudin (an old favorite, three visits now) in short order and next to a really charming and fun couple from London. Two Kir Royales and a Bordeaux later (and foie gras, and boeuf bourguignon...) I made my way back to my room and collapsed.
The next morning I spent four hours wandering the streets again. Some significant damage was done at Gerard Darel (fantastic fashion boutique on Boulevard St Germain) and then over to Mariage Freres for some tea to take home. I had to buy another suitcase, no surprise there, and ended up checking two bags home, ay yi yi.
Too short. Always.