July 17, 2010

Art Museums in Paris

Much belated am I in posting; for some days in Paris last week internet was hard to come by.

The Parisien heat was incredible, and I suppose is legendary.  However, the almost complete absence of air-conditioning was surprising to this North American softie.  At least, air-condition the Métro?!  Oh well.

Visiting the Musée d'Orsay was a bit of a respite in terms of temperature, but more importantly, it was an inspiring and enriching experience.  I had likely seen many of the paintings in their former home years ago at the Jeu de Paume, which I had enjoyed.  This "new" home for these works is an extraordinary setting and I would have liked to take more time there to take more of it in.  However, my attention span does not seem to be up to that kind of stimulation for more than an hour or two in one go.    

A revelation to me was my introduction to the works of Lucien Levy-Dhurmer, a Symbolist painter born in Algérie in 1865, died in 1953.  Not sure why I've missed this guy all these years, but there were three or four paintings at the D'Orsay which really had an impact on me, and have stayed with me.  The sense of mystery, the things left unpainted, unsaid, in his works really moved me.  La femme à la médaille was the first Dhurmer painting I saw.  Amazing how huge a world is conveyed, how many possible stories are told yet not told here.  The poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé was brought to mind.

A visit to the Pompidou Centre was also a highlight of Paris for me.  I first visited the Pompidou just a couple of years after it opened, and loved, loved, loved it.  I have a soft spot for rebellious architecture, which possibly hearkens back to my own "architectural designs" when in grade seven, I would draw outlandish shapes and then turn them into floor plans, or cross-section-views of crazy homes.  Anyway, the Pompidou had been renovated since I was last there, and some of the "out-there" colours seem to be toned down, but the place retains its hip feel of experimentation, exploration, and expansiveness.  I also remember finding the escalator rides to the top of the building thrilling, and was not disappointed.  From the open window at the top of the fifth escalator is one of the best views of the city, just above the rooftops where you can see all the chimney pots Mary Poppins-style.  Tour Eiffel and Basilica Sacre-Coeur are nicely placed in that view as well.

Again, my attention span only allowed for a good look at the early 20th century permanent collection, starting around cubism.  I am so fascinated by the progression and development of ideas in that era, and found the curating of these works to be helpful to my understanding.   

As usual, I just viewed the Louvre from the exterior.  It's just too much; I wouldn't even know where to start.  I confess to me it's like sitting through an entire Wagner Ring Cycle.  Not something I'm ever likely to be able to manage.

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