Friday, March 2, 2012

The Arts Beat

Every Wednesday, this little booklet appears at newspaper kiosks throughout town, 150+ pages of newsprint, listing everything going on in Paris during the following seven days: theatre, opera, ballet, cinema, concerts, conferences, exhibitions, gardens, street markets, flea markets, brocantes, museums, restaurants, children's events, amusement parks, and so on. It's such a regular part of our life here to pick one up each week (0,35 centimes), browse through it, mark up some interesting items, etc., that we've reached the point where we almost take for granted the incredible riches that are offered on a daily basis here.

Almost, but not quite. Looking back over these last two months, I can't quite believe the array and quality of arts events we've experienced.

In early January, we just managed to catch the  Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light exhibition at the Jacquemart-André Museum before it closed, a breathtaking show of some 25 master works from the Renaissance. As well as Fra Angelico, shimmering paintings by Uccello, Masolino, Lippi, Strozzi and other Italian greats were also on display.

A few days later,  we went to the Musée Marmottan, way out in the 16th arrondissement, on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. One of several formerly private homes that have become museums (the Jacquemart-André is another one), the Marmottan was originally a hunting lodge of one of the Dukes of Valmy, before being bought in the 1880s by the Marmottan family, who used it to house their collections of art and furnishings.

Today, it's known as the Marmottan Monet Museum. There are so many Monet paintings in the permanent galleries, you can scarcely believe your eyes!  But they also have temporary exhibitions such as the one we were going to see, featuring the works of Henri Edmond Cross, about whom we knew next to nothing.

Born Henri Edmond Delacroix in 1856, he changed his name to Cross so as to avoid confusion with both Eugène Delacroix and  the academic painter Henri-Eugène Delacroix!  His early works, like this self-portrait, seemed like typical figurative works of the late 1870s.

But then he fell under the spell of Seurat and the neo-impressionists. Just a few years later he was  producing brilliantly colored paintings like this one, and developing a close friendship and mutual influence with Matisse. The show was really eye-popping, room after room of works by him, by Signac, Matisse, Van Rysselberghe, and others. We tried to keep their brilliant images in front of our eyes as we rode the bus home through the grey Parisian skies!

Over at the Pinacotèque Museum at the Place de la Madeleine, we'd heard somewhat mixed reviews about the German Expressionist show, but wanted to check it out, and needed to stay off the streets as much as possible as the "big freeze" was just settling in!

Although the show seemed to be organized so that you could compare and contrast the two competing schools of German Expressionism -- Der Blaue Reiter vs. Die Brücke, 1905 to 1920 -- we found it hard to follow the differences. At times it seemed both groups were, at one time or another, interested in the same philosophies, so we pretty much gave up on that and just enjoyed the glorious paintings!  Like this one by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who was of  Die Brücke school...

...or this one by August Macke of  Der Bleue Reiter group...

...or the wonderful Emil Nolde, who could belong to any school, you'd still just love his paintings!

Meanwhile, it's not been only art museums that have captured our time and hearts. Back in November, before we left Inverness, I booked tickets for a concert at the Salle Pleyel (the Carnegie Hall of Paris), to hear the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the young Chinese pianist, Lang Lang. I know his recordings, but had never seen him perform live, so this was a major treat in store.

To my chagrin, when we picked up our tickets, we discovered that instead of being rear orchestra, as I had thought I had reserved, we were directed to the "deuxième balcon", all the way at the top of the theatre! And not just that, but our seats were part of a single file row that runs along the side of the theatre, and that gives you a view of only the centre-right part of the stage. Matthew's seat was in front of mine! Quite nonplussed, we considered bailing on the whole thing, but decided to at least stay for the first piece, an orchestral work by Marcus Lindberg.

And thank goodness we did! Our seats turned out to be quite wonderful, the acoustics were extraordinary, and by leaning out over the railing just a little, we could see almost the entire stage.

Best of all, when Lang Lang came on stage to play Bartok's second piano concerto, we didn't see his face, like in this photo, but much better, had the perfect downward view of his hands as they raced over the keyboard, thrilling us with every note.  After intermission, Maestro Alan Gilbert led the orchestra in a beautiful performance of Prokofiev's fifth symphony, after which we floated out into the wintry night, just as snowflakes began to fall!

Not all concerts feature world-renowned performers, or cost a whole bunch of Euros (even for the deuxième balcon!). A few minutes walk from our flat stands the regal Église St-Eustache where, every Sunday there are free recitals, usually performed by their organist, Jean Guillou.

A couple of Sundays ago, instead of an organ recital, we were treated to a free choral recital by this group of young French singers, aged between 18 and 26, who come from all over France, and who present works by, mostly, contemporary composers.

In spite of this man, who plonked his tripod right in our line of vision, their voices reached our seats beautifully, and we enjoyed choral works by French, Russian and the American composer, Eric Whitacre, in the glorious setting of St. Eustache.

Browsing l'Officiel des Spectacles about ten days ago, I noticed that I was about to miss the Cézanne et Paris show at the Musée du Luxembourg, a lovely museum that runs along the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens. 

So, in haste, and in spite of the sub-zero temperatures, I walked up there with a friend from the Place St. Michel, and after thawing out a little, we spent the following couple of hours weaving our way through the crowded galleries, drinking in every painting. The show focussed on Cézanne's time spent in and around Paris, which, it turns out, was considerable. So, there were no rooftops of Provence, but there were some beautiful landscapes, like this one from Pontoise...

...there were several still lifes...

...and there was the ever-faithful Mme Hortense Cézanne, the painter's wife, who became his favorite subject, not so much because of the deep love he felt for her (he had apparently a tortured time with women!), but because she could sit for hours without moving a muscle!

Just like the music scene, there are also art shows that are offered free, most notably at the Hôtel de Ville, where there are two substantial exhibition spaces. Because there's no admission charge, you usually have to stand in line, but it's always worth the wait.

Only two days ago, we caught up with an exhibition of the photographs of Robert Doisneau, chronicling the Les Halles food market that was so tragically torn down in the 1960s.

In photo after photo, you found yourself drawn into the lives and times of not just the butchers, fishmongers, vegetable sellers, etc., but also the cafés and bars that surrounded the market, whose lives and livelihoods were greatly impacted. We wondered what became of this gentleman, M. Jean Settour, proprietor of the Bar des BOF.  We also wondered if the name BOF referred to "Beurre Oeufs Fromage" (Butter, Eggs, Cheese), which was used to denote those who trafficked in the black market during WWII.

At any rate the whole appalling destruction of Les Halles seemed to us to be the French equivalent of what happened to Penn Station in New York, and once gone, can never be recaptured.

In the other gallery space at the Hôtel de Ville, the exhibition of drawings and watercolors of Jean-Jacques Sempé has been extended until the end of March. What a total delight! Considered a national treasure here in France, Sempé's whimsical, humorous and, frequently, wry drawings have graced every major magazine in this country and will be immediately recognized by readers of The New Yorker, whose covers have featured many of his works  and whose pages have included hundreds of his cartoons. We found ourselves walking through this show of some 300 examples of his work with permanent smiles on our faces, frequently laughing out loud -- as did the other visitors, I might add.

Sempé's drawings range from elaborate cityscapes to something that has barely a dab of a watercolor brush, but in all cases, they are simply his way of chronicling every day life.

Of all the watercolors, this one particularly captured my imagination. Who is this Madame and where is she going? She's quite matronly, but definitely stylish. Perhaps she's trotting over the Pont Neuf to lunch at Le Bon Marché, followed by a little shopping. Or perhaps she has a rendezvous with an old lover, where they will sit and reminisce like Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in Gigi: "We met at nine. We met at eight. I was on time. No, you were late. Ah, yes, I remember it well."

In a sign that winter may be retreating, Matthew reports that this week he heard bird song and saw the first tiny blossoms on trees in the Bois de Boulogne, and daffodils have just made their appearance in the local florist. Such a cheerful sign! Certainly the temperatures have risen considerably and knee-high boots have been put away. Perhaps when we study the next l'Officiel des Spectacles, we'll be looking for more "outdoor" adventures to pursue.

But they will have to wait a little while, because, most exciting of all, we are going to Brooklyn, New York next week to meet our new granddaughter, the wondrous Clio Ines Escalante, who already seems to know how to wear a hat! The blog will return in April.

À bientôt!

1 comment:

  1. Yet another great blog and fantastic pictures have a safe trip to USA love to all xx