Birthdays and Art pt. 1

Musing on Birthdays

I’ve doubted birthdays in the last couple of years, to a certain extent. Obviously I have a lot of fun on birthdays and I think it is great to celebrate the combination of one’s passing of time and hopeful venture into greater maturity. But at the same time, a lot of emphasis is placed on one arbitrary day that doesn’t necessarily denote a difference in age. I just turned 21, which is a pretty momentous birthday in America. Luckily, I escaped the majority of pressure-oriented binge drinking that associates itself with 21st birthdays in the states by being in Paris, where I’ve been able to legally drink my whole time here. This reprieve from excessive intoxication and day-long hangovers gave me time to contemplate on birthdays in general, and on my birthday. I was asked a surprising number of times “Do you feel older?” What a stupid question. To blunt answer is no, its not the passing of  a day that makes one older, its the passing of an experience. It doesn’t matter how many years you live if you don’t do anything with them. In a sense, In actuality, I feel a lot older than I did at 20. But not because I made it to October 12th again, rather I feel older because I’ve done a lot of outgoing things in my six weeks here, which have enabled me to grow. In summation, I think people should be celebrated for their accomplishments, not for their ability to idly pass time. A rock can do the latter, if we as humans have a higher conscience and creativity, let’s push ourselves for the former.

Art and Museums

For my the lead-up to my birthday, and as part of my birthday, I got to spend a lot of time with one of my favorite things that Paris has got to offer. Art. If you’ve been reading this blog, that should come as no surprise. Chronologically, I started off with two days at the gallery. I did a ton of framing, studied the lithographs we sell to get a better sense of the artists and try to understand contemporary art, and worked with some customers. Pretty straightforward.

My museum extravaganza started Wednesday night. I went to four museums in three days in Paris. If I wasn’t an art history student you’d think I was a tourist. Which I probably still am anyway. But going under the context of an academic excursion, with a teacher and a notebook, and having a good sense of what I’m looking at and what I want to see gives me a lot of peace of mind to separate me from the camera wielding, audio-guide clutching tourist crowd.

The museums worked out to be a chronological study, so I’ve included some images so you can see the development of French painting over a few centuries.

Charles Le Brun – The Assumption of the Virgin – Classical

Watteau – Pèlerinage à l’île de Cythère

Wednesday started us off at the Louvre. I went there 7 years ago but I don’t count it because I don’t remember it. So it was my first time actually going inside, though I’d already walked by a number of times. We went for my artistic institutions class, and therefore saw the evolution of Classic painting such as Le Brun and Poussin to Rococo (Rocaille in French) such as Watteau to the Neoclassic paintings of Jacques Louis David and Ingres. We finished off checking out the works of Romanticism by Delacroix and Gericault. It was really cool to trace the trajectory and see the differences in the paintings. The two biggest developments over time are changes in subject and design. With Classic, academic painting, the subjects were meant to be didactic, and had to portray something out of antiquity, as well ideal beauty. Compositionally, the design was much more important than the color, and things had to be rendered perfectly to display the scene with no evidence of brushstrokes. Rococo is a departure from these two things as it displayed the pleasures of aristocratic life, but as the title Neoclassical suggests, they went back to academic rules. I’ll spare the history behind it, send me an email if you are interested. Not until Romanticism were more contemporary subjects painted in earnest, but the game of course didn’t really change until Manet.

The Consecration of Napoleon – Neoclassical

Perfectly, the next trip was to the Orsay. As I realized last time, I love the Orsay. I’ll try not to be repetitive here, as I know I’ve written about it before. I’ll limit my thoughts to this. After seeing two centuries of very strict Academic art at the Louvre, it was almost relieving for me to go to the Orsay, and see the lighthearted, color-focused works there. The difference in French painting from the 17 and 18th centuries to the 19th is so striking (see included paintings). We got a treat and go to go to the Impressionism and the Mode (fashion) temporary exhibit this trip. It wasn’t super thrilling to see tons of 19th century dresses, but there were a number of paintings that I got to see in person that were exciting, including a lot of Renoir and Tissot as well as a Monet, Caillebotte and Manet that I had wanted to see in person. The walls were covered in quotes about fashion and paris by Zola and Baudelaire. It was a well done exhibit. A lot of Impressionism has to do with a changing subject matter, specifically a move to representation of modern life. In paintings of the mode, the realized that very well. Here are two examples:

Tissot – The Circle of the Rue Royale – Impressionist

Manet – La dame – Impressionist

As you can see, the two paintings are pretty different in technique. The Impressionists are hard to group together, one way to look at them is that they shared a common trait of breaking from the mold, even if they didn’t necessarily have the same ideas about art or paint in the same style. Caillebotte and Tissot tend to have a more finished look to their paintings, they took more time on time and paid more attention to the design, where other artists clearly were more interested in larger brushstrokes and a less finished look as evidenced by the Manet. The Manet leads me into museum number three, the Pinacotheque. Notice the Japanese motifs in the fans, as well as the flat background. Japan opened its borders in the 1850’s, and Europe was treated to its fascinating culture. In my Origins of Modern art class, we’ve been studying japonisme, which is the influence Japanese art had on French works. The Pinacotheque had a create temporary exhibit split into two parts that we saw. The first was a display of woodblock prints by Hiroshige. His style is very similar to Hokusai’s, maybe a little bit more refined, but he was much more prolific. The exhibit had about 170 prints, all beautiful. The next exhibit was an exhibit of Van Gogh works. There were posters that should the direct elements of Hiroshige that Van Gogh incorporated into his paintings. It was mind-blowing to see the specific influence he had, from the way that he painted certain trees, to arrangements of people.

A beautiful Hiroshige landscape

Van Gogh with Japanese influences

After a picnic in the Tulerie, we went to the Orangerie, my first visit there. For a while, the French weren’t too interested in Impressionism, so the museum wasn’t well attended for a while. Towards the end of Monet’s life, he wanted to make a monument to peace. The Nympheas are two rooms of water lillies from different times of day, in an oval shape around the viewer. The rooms are built with diffused light, so the paintings are different depending on how sunny it is. To be surrounded by these works is breathtaking and very powerful. I’m not sure what they were exactly, but the beauty made me feel very strong emotions.

Just one part of the round Nympheas

We also saw an exhibit of Soutine. His works display a pretty drastic view of the world. We were on hour four of museums Friday morning after going out for my birthday, so I’ll have to return to see them more in depth and read the walls (it is hard in French), but for now, here is an example of his work. It really highlights how quickly things changed after Impressionism.

Soutine – Vue de Cagnes – Post Impressionism

This is getting pretty long so I’ll stop for now. I’ve got some comments of French language and behavior for next time. Also, this weekend was the Montmartre fetes de vindage (pretty much a big party celebrating wine and the neighborhood) and I’ll give a report of that. It was awesome.

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