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la nourriture

When I told my folks back home that I was going to Paris, a good number of people mentioned the food and how good it was going to be. They aren’t wrong.. I have, of course, been eating a lot of good food. Not to sound like a prick but, its all made by my SO and I. We have gone to a few places to eat but frankly the food is so astronomically expensive here I’m afraid to go out. It’s very common for an average dinner to cost € 30 ($ 45 CAD) per plate and I’m really can’t afford it, nor do I think it’s worth it. Back home I would spend less than $20 on dinner, more if it was a special occasion or something, but I definitely wouldn’t spend forty-five, let alone every day.

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I can count the times we’ve gone out for dinner in the month we’ve been here on one hand : because it’s three. Twice we went out with folks from IHP because its a good social thing to do. And the food was alright, but imho nothing to shake a stick at. Also, being frugal students we tried to find more affordable but decent places, such as Kunitoraya. The third time we went out was yesterday. Yes, it took us a month to go out to dinner on our own. We of course googled the shit out of Paris cheap eats and settled on Gladines, a chain restaurant. The restaurant was divey in appearance but they had some affordable options (€ 14.50 for confit de canard). We chose the location on St. Germain which is in the 5th near the Seine where they had plenty of English menus, being in a touristy spot. The restaurant was definitely set up for quick turnover, the meals pre-made on individual cast iron skillets to be heated on ordering. It’s a good setup in that people don’t have to wait long for food and the menu consists of meals that by nature are better when reheated (read: duck confit), but I just can’t seem to be able to justify the experience against the price. Yikes, I sound really ornery right now.

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We usually eat around the same time we would back home, say seven or eight pm. The French however eat much later like nine or even ten, or dix-huit ou dix-neuf if you run on a twenty-four hour clock like they do here. Needless to say by the time we finished our meal we could hardly find room to shuffle to the bar to pay. Maybe the magic of “going out” gets ruined when you have worked at a cafe, bar or restaurant (or all three if you’re me). But I know that the people there want you to eat your meal, enjoy it, then get the fuck out. Also, leave them a good review on Google + or Yelp. And the food tastes like it.

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One of the glorious things about food in France are the plethora of high quality ingredients available conveniently. It seems you can’t walk ten feet without running in to a boulangerie, stuffed with handmade breads and delightful pastries and desserts, or a produce market overflowing with the freshest and most appetizing fruits and veg, or pêcherie containing more varieties of fish than I’ve seen in my life. In fact our most frequented place is la Baguettes des Pyrenèes, only 50 m from our house.

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They have the best baguettes we’ve found so far in addition to many tasty treats like pain au chocolat (croissants stuffed with chocolate) or tarte normande (giant apple and custard tarts). There are also quite a number of street-side food stops à emporter (to go) selling equally delicious croques, or tartines, all of which are always drizzled in toasted melty goodness. Trust me, the French don’t skimp on anything. There is no such thing as “low fat” or “low-cal” here, everything is made with the best and tastiest ingredients because there is no other way. The French balance this out by living an active lifestyle and never snacking – eating a meal is a very serious thing here.

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Also, when the French faisons du lèche-vitrine, they are usually drawn to storefronts to admire things like swanky clothes or nice shoes.. but we definitely bee-lined it for an amazing demo kitchen on our way to Orsay, standing slack jawed in the street, basking in its shiny marble glory. Sigh. Nous aimons cuisiner!

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Most recently we went to the open air market at Place des Fêtes, open Tuesdays (mardi) Fridays (vendredi) and Sundays (dimanche) just up the street from us. It’s a meandering maze of market stands zig-zagging through the square. In fact, if you don’t know what you want to make for dinner, it’s a little overwhelming. Something special always manages to catch our eye, though, be it fresh beans or giant artichokes. Back home, I make an effort to buy fresh food, I try to go to local markets and get good stuff straight from the source. But frankly some of the food stands make any market back home look like a pile of crap, and I hail from an agricultural stronghold. Perhaps it’s the population density here allowing for high turnover of goods, but I think this is something I’ll be sad to leave when I go.

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mon tuyau de plomb fait un peu mal

If you guys remember two posts ago I was talking about Millet’s Gleaners and so on, so I wanted to mention the guy who paved the way for this sort of stuff, Gustave Courbet. He is considered to be the head of the Realist movement, and was influenced early on by a trip to the Netherlands to see Dutch masterpieces depicting every day life. There are some very famous examples of Courbet’s work at the musée d’Orsay, such as “Burial at Ornans” (1850) and “The Artist’s Studio”(1855). His style looks quite different than Millet’s, aesthetically, but at the heart of the matter, they are Realists; which means they are concerning themselves with painting real, modern people doing accurately real things. They are concerning themselves with shedding light on the average peoples of France (read: lower class) instead of giving attention to subjects which previously were committed to paint such as royalty or religion. A major difference in aesthetics can be attributed to the fact that Millet was a Barbizon School artist, which is a group of artists that traveled to the French countryside in search of rural subject matter (mainly in Barbizon). The movement was coming out of Romanticism so the subjects are somewhat Idealized, but at the same time moving towards Realism in subject matter. Unfortunately, Courbet’s works have always been somewhat rejected by my personal tastes because I consider his execution of ideas to be offensively heavy-handed and vulgar. None the less his works are quite celebrated.

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Burial at Ornans

Ornans is significant because it depicts an event that happened during his lifetime, and the figures were posed by the people themselves. It is important to remember that previously the only people important enough to pose for their own portraits were generally royalty, or ancient greek or biblical figures were often posed for by poor students or prostitutes from lack of finances. In addition, this work is unbelievably enormous: 10 x 22 ft, a size normally reserved for biblical scenes. As the fantastical and decadent style of Romanticism was losing public interest, Courbet’s Ornans offered an every-day realistic view of life, and more importantly death, as the ordinary funeral procession is splayed out in huge scale before us. “The rigorous frieze-like composition and the gaping grave strewn with bones invite us to think about the human condition” 1.

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L’Atelier du peintre. Allégorie réelle déterminant une phase de
sept années de ma vie artistique et morale

In the same room at musée d’Orsay, there is the Artist’s Studio which features Courbet in the centre and allegorical figures depicting the turmoil and reality of his life. On his right, he is flanked by his supporters, contemporaries and friends such as Alfred Bruyas, Proudhon, Champfleury and Baudelaire. On his left are his contenders, the wretched, the exploited and the twisted. He also added in a man with hunting dogs much later, supposed to be an allegory for Napoleon III, depicting him as a criminal. “The unemployed worker and a beggar girl symbolis[e] poverty. We can also see the guitar, the dagger and the hat, which, together with the male model, condemn traditional academic art. [...]  When faced with the rejection of his painting, intended for the 1855 Universal Exhibition, Courbet built a “Pavilion of Realism” at his own expense. Here, outside the official event, he organized his own exhibition, which also included A Burial at Ornans” 2. A great amount of viewership were people who only came to belittle the artist, offended at his audaciousness and lack of tact.

Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)

The self-proclaimed “proudest and most arrogant man in France” 3

Courbet secured some financial success by flanking his controversial paintings with long standing favorite views, such as hunting scenes. He furthered his work of female nudes and erotic art depicting such scenes as women in bed, prostitutes napping with their undergarments showing, or just extreme vagina close ups, some of which attracted attention from the authorities. Two examples are the “Le Sommeil”(1866), and “Ces demoiselles des bords de la Seine”(1857), both at the Petit Palais. Ces demoiselles aimed to portray the “realism of the scene, with a frank sensuality” [...] Courbet deliberately provoked critique, sparking a scandal by exposing Ces Demoiselles at the Salon of 1857” 4. Le Sommeil was never shown, instead immediately went into a private collection. There is a long history of erotic artworks and of France in particular there is a long history of the eroticised female nude painted by men for the appreciation of men. So while I can appreciate Courbet’s desire to bend the rules and question authority I find his treatment of his subjects crude and ugly, and his works make every attempt to bash his ideology over our heads like a lead pipe.

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Stonebreakers

One of his most celebrated works, which has a more realistic and less sensualised feel, is the “Stonebreakers” (1850). The work is no longer viewable as it was destroyed during allied bombing in WWII. It depicts the lower-class people of abject poverty, two men whose only means of survival is breaking rocks to make way for a road. Courbet witnessed this scene and hired the two to come to his studio to pose for the painting. This painting, created a year after the Communist Manifesto was published, aims to shed light on class structure and the reality of the low class in France. The fact that we can’t see the end of the road, and the nondescript ambient lighting gives no indication that the work will be completed on any discernible timeline. Instead, the stonebreakers are engaged in perpetual labour. They are enslaved by the land they must work, and the only peep of any light on the horizon almost imperceptibly out of reach.

Courbet participated in the Paris Commune (French socialist uprising) and upon his suggestion, the Vendôme column was demolished. Following the fall of the brief reign of the commune, Courbet was sentenced to six months in prison and a five hundred Franc fine for his involvement. However when the Republic elected a new president it was decided that the Vendôme should be rebuilt, entirely financed by Courbet (323 091 Francs). Courbet went into exile to avoid bankruptcy. He was then told he could pay in installments of 10 000 francs per year until the age of 91, but he died the day before the first installment was due from the effects of heavy drinking.

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A group of artists coined the “bande noire” working later in the 1800s, were inspired by Courbet who employed dark colours and whose compositions held a turbulent feel, especially his self portraits. They rejected the bright and colourful light of the Impressionists and Barbizon school in favour of dark and violent colour to express melancholy, the precision and realism of everyday life. The group included Charles Cottet , Emile-Rene Menard, Dauchez André, Rene Prinet Xavier, Lucien Simon, and associated non-members Edmond Aman-Jean and George Desvallières.

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l’ascention du poilu, (1931)

Desvallières work made use of dark and turbulent subjects, eventually becoming more twisted and expressive as his life and work progressed.  Desvallières met Gustave Moreau at the Académie Julian who influenced his work significantly, drawing  Desvallières away from making traditional copies and influencing his personal style and independence. “Devallières devoted himself to the creation of the Salon d’Automne [...] “whose role is to be excessive because the role of the other salons is to be quite the opposite”, for forgotten masters and for talented artists that were currently excluded from official exhibitions” 5. Desvallières aimed to give attention and public exhibition to Salon-rejected artists and to give support to those dedicated to their cause even if unpopular eg) Fauves. Upon the outbreak of WWI he voluntarily enlisted at the age of 53, and “it was on the occasion of one of these sallies, when he had passed close to death, that he vowed to paint only religious subjects in the future: a vow that he kept scrupulously until the end of his life” 6. His style mixes the dark and furious aesthetic of Courbet with the same turmoil felt during wartime France. The subject matter is in a modern setting, but expressive and inventive in its execution. Devallières began mixing religious images with violent military battle scenes, expressing his pain and horror of the war in which he lost his son Daniel (aged 17) in his own battalion, with the grace and comfort he found in religion.

1 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=130

2 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=7146&no_cache=1

3 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gust/hd_gust.htm

4 http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/fr/collections/les-demoiselles-des-bords-de-la-seine-ete

5, 6 http://www.georgedesvallieres.com/index_en.html

musée de quay Branly

signification manquant

The Buttes Chaumont park, which I have mentioned previously has a man-made waterfall and mountainous feature, and yesterday we decided to brave the newly cold temperatures to climb to the top for a picnic. The top is a popular spot for two things : lingering around while chatting and/or snuggling, or strenuous exercise. Being a steep climb many people use it to run to the top, do situps or pushup on the benches then run away. We chose to instead sit on said benches drinking beer and eating bread, cheese, olives and other yummy picnic items while watching the sun set over the tops of the apartment buildings. From the Temple de la Sibylle, which is an italian-inspired open-air temple at the very tip-top, you can see sprawling views of the arrondisement, including Montmartre in the distance.

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I also made a solo trek to the musée du quai Branly, which exhibits indigenous art of non-European cultures. The museum itself is very dark inside, with rounded brown walls and fake rock formations and windows tinted with fake jungle print. I guess you should feel like you’re transported to an-“other” place, specifically non-modern European. The interior architecture has been called “the revival of the myth of the noble savage,” a primitivist myth which is at the ideological base of colonization” 1.The museum is strangely set up, grouping ethnicities into areas with no semblance of order, timeline or significance. There are meandering dark passageways showing a mish-mash of artifacts without context or cultural significance, which is a true shame. “It is clear that the aesthetic approach won out over the more ethnographic approach, and the fact that only 3,500 of 300,000 objects in the collection are displayed underlines this point” 2. I went to the museum because I heard that they have a collection of native-Canadian artifacts, and I was curious to see the representation of North America in a French setting. The museum website mentioned that they had a few buckskin clothing items and painted bison hides, however I found that they also had a very beautiful collection of northern Alaskan masks, totem poles, and wampum belts. I’ve also mentioned Wampum belts here before, and never have I seen such a collection, even anywhere in Canada. Wampum belts are created to tell a story and it’s too bad they are hidden under glass without the living messages they convey being shared.

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Why show artifacts with no care for their purpose, significance and historical context? Is the point to just display items that are “different” from a European perspective? In which case what is being said : is it participation or objectification? “The roots of these collections also show that the museum is closely tied to France’s colonial past. [...] The strengths of its collections lie in the former colonies and because most of these objects are in fact colonial heirlooms and booty obtained through such means as pillage, seizures, military conquest, and ethnographic expedition” 3. Colonial nations have a long history of bringing home foreign treasures, often to the objection of its original owners, and the musée de quay Branly has created a great deal of controversy over the ownership of it’s collection. There were a number of artifacts that were eventually returned to their parent country after their foreign exhibition caused a stir. Similarly, in 2013, Hopi and Apache artifacts were being auctioned in Paris and the tribes had tried unsuccessfully to block their sale. “The auctioneers argue that blocking such sales would have implications for the trade in indigenous art, and could potentially force French museums to hand back collections they had bought” 4. The artifacts were then bought by the Annenberg Foundation who returned the artifacts to their respectful tribes, saying “our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility” 6.

There were a great number of artifacts that I passed by without care, not because I don’t think it is worth looking at but because I don’t understand. Especially artifacts from cultures which I am unfamiliar I cannot invent cultural significance, I can only interpret the items from my own perspective, and frankly my perspective is insufficient because it lacks the pertinent information. There were plenty of objects which seemed in some particular way interesting to me but without any guidance they just become ‘neat, different-y looking things’. A great number of these are visual depictions ie) masks or tapestries that use visual cues to tell a story, but without the author’s voice the story is mediated by my interpretation. “Many have argued that the displays emphasize the universal beauty of the objects and in doing so elicit positive reactions from visitors, just like at the Louvre.  Many anthropologists, on the other hand, view the lack of contextualization as deeply problematic. [...] Emmanuelle Saada is careful to point out that the museum is not trying to frame art (and peoples) in hierarchical terms, but still frames them in differential terms, assuming a sort of essentialized difference as if there were two clashing civilizations” 5. Part of coming from a country which prides itself on it’s multiculturality is embracing not a labelled static categorization of the “other”, but fluid cultures allowed to breathe and more importantly, to share. To look a culture, its history and its values without listening to its voice, we force it to fit into our own version of the world, and to amputate function from form destroys any chance of cross-cultural understanding. “In some ways, it’s part of living in a multi-cultural world; that’s why you don’t have to be Inuit to paddle a kayak, or First Nations to wear moccasins” 7. But it is dangerous to participate in cultural emblems without understanding or giving respect to their function and purpose. Is it destructive to exhibit a culture other than your own? At what point does appropriation become misappropriation, does exemplify become objectify, does share become dictate? I don’t necessarily want to suggest that these artifacts not be displayed at all. But I find uninformed exhibition troubling and potentially dangerous. If a particular culture is exhibited in a foreign place and their icons and aesthetics displayed without context or accompanied by the vision of the peoples who created it, does it not follow that the entire culture becomes reduced to meaningless iconography?

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For example, the First Nations peoples in Canada have been so isolated from non-FNs, and their culture so boiled down or forgotten from memory that what Canadians understand to be FN are token signifiers or racist caricatures. We know what a headdress looks like, and know it’s some kind of Native thing, but when it’s just presented behind glass in some museum without any first person cultural input the object gets divorced from its cultural heritage.. and even though we admire its we end up buying cheap replicas manufactured offshore (read: H&M) because all we know is we think it looks cool and we don’t understand the significance of the object. “It’s not that non-native people shouldn’t be inspired by native art, [...] The main thing there is to treat those designs with respect … and respect is acknowledging the original artist and acknowledging the original use of that work” 8.

I think it comes down to cooperative sharing, as opposed to cultural theft. If there existed a forum for each culture to describe the significance of the artifacts, why they were made, who made them, how they were used, and how they fit into the cultural in both a historical and modern sense, museum-goers would come away from the experience with a greater and truer understanding of different cultures. I think everyone is naturally curious about thing to which they are not familiar, but collecting artifacts and fitting them to a different context steals an opportunity for different peoples to understand each other, and steals the chance to respect each other on a genuine level.

1, 2, 3, 6 http://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/200-the-opening-of-the-musee-du-quai-branly-valuing-displaying-the-other-in-post-colonial-france

4, 5 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25331975

7, 8 http://uphere.ca/post/87528245278/inappropriation

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le cercueil caché

If you ever wanted to get into the artist Jean-François Millet, the place to start would be “The Gleaners”, 1857. It is probably his best known work and the one of the most cherished examples of Realism painting. The scene depicts the ancient right of poor women to scour the wheat fields after harvest and collect and bits of edible wheat that remain. The painting shows three figures, hunched over in perpetual labour, hard working for a menial meal. The triad and the triangle in painting is one that brings a feeling of balance – the triad of women rise in front of us like a sturdy mountain. Indeed, their own forms are drawn to the ground like mountains, ever rooted in the soil.

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“What does The Gleaners show? [The women] embody an animal force deeply absorbed by a painstaking task. The contrast between wealth and poverty, power and helplessness, male and female spheres is forcefully rendered.” – Liana Vardi

Even if you aren’t familiar with the process of gleaning there are visual cues in the process to tell the story ; we can see the hay being harvested and piled up in the background, indicating to us that the harvest has already occurred and the women are engaged after. In addition, the contrast of the heaping piles of plentiful food hovers over them, almost danging above their heads as a strong reminder of their situation. The gleaners themselves are hunched and tired looking, their skin darkened from the sun as a testament to their unending labour.

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Their faces are obscured from us shrouding their identity and allowing the gleaner to act as a placeholder for all impoverished women. They’ve collected but mere handfuls of grain as the sun is setting, an indicator of the small reward for such a difficult and lengthy task. But the work is not in condemnation of the gleaners, instead the warmth of the golden light shines gracefully upon them as they are presented to us in impressive scale compared to the “privileged” in the background.

“[They] have gigantic pretensions, they pose as the Three Fates of Poverty, their ugliness and their grossness unrelieved” 1.

“Part of the shock value of Millet’s painting was undoubtedly due to the fact that in the past gleaning had usually been represented in art through the Old Testament tale of Ruth the gleaner, in which Ruth is characterized as a modest and virtuous example of the way to God, and not – as it was now – a statement on rural poverty” 2. There is both a literal and metaphorical disconnect between labourer and upper class as exemplified by the master on horseback (top right) who is leading the harvest but not participating. He is shaded and solitary, not involved in the scene, and physically set apart from any work being done, yet he represents the consumer, both in food and class.

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When the Gleaners was submitted to the salon of 1857, the reception was disapproving, even hostile, especially among the upper classes (the usual patrons and audience of art). “To them, it was a reminder that French society was built upon the labor of the working masses, and landowners linked this working class with the growing movement of Socialism” 3.  The work was viewed as a glorification of poor subjects and idolization of rural life, a common theme in Millet’s work. This theme and subsequent raw depiction and admiration is nowadays widely revered and respected but was generally rejected at the time of its debut, and the painting sold for much less than the asking price. Millet desperately needed the money, but in his embarrassment tried to keep the pathetic sale price a secret from the public.

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Two Peasant Women Digging in the Snow, April, 1890
Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich, Switzerland.

Not much later, Van Gogh idolized and drew inspiration from Millet. Rural scenes were important in Van Gogh’s work both on a cultural and psychological level. Van Gogh did over twenty copies of Millet, especially during his self-admitted stint in Saint-Paul asylum which his brother thought Vincent created his best work. These paintings interpret the symbolism of Millet’s rural scenes and translate subjects into his own style. Van Gogh did in fact copy the Gleaners but reworked the scene into women digging in a field of snow. The work takes on a futile and uncomfortable aspect, changing what they dig through to something illustrative of that which is barren and hostile.

“One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not yet here.” 4

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Another very famous work is The Angelus” (Millet), 1859, also at Museé d’Orsay. It depicts a rural scene of two peasants standing in a field with gentle illumination from the sunset. They are gently bowed, praying over a basket of potatoes. This simple painting is another depiction of the humble and righteous peasant. It was commissioned by Thomas Gold Appleton, who never collected it. It is about half the size of the Gleaners, and sold for less than half the price, so you can imagine Millet’s embarrassment. It was finally shown in 1874, a year before Millet’s death, and by the end of the century had completely about-faced in reception. It sold in 1889 for 553 000 francs5 (originally sold for 1000), the highest price for a modern painting to date. Only a month later, The Gleaners sold for 300,000 francs. Posthumous fame is a common theme in art history, and in this case owes itself in part Millet’s oeuvre, which was exhibited and auctioned after his death6. “They presented an artist whose works depicted “the man and the woman of the field in all the states of their lives. [Millet] admirably shows developments from infancy to youth, from youth to maturity, from maturity to old age, with the most solid logic and precise observation, with no more bias toward ugliness than toward beauty” 7.

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An interesting side note is the Dali’s fascination with this painting, which led him to create a series of works and writings exploring his horrific associations and dark obsession with the Angelus. Dali was convinced that the work was sinister on some other level. Dali experienced hallucinations where he could see the painting in his mind but his interpretation was changed and distorted. Dali became convinced the painting was a funeral scene and that the two figures were playing over a child-sized coffin. Dali eventually convinced the Louvre to conduct an x-ray of the painting and discovered a small coffin-shaped object between the figures, which had been painted over with the basket of potatoes, presumably to make it more saleable. In his book The Tragic Myth of Millet’s Angelus Dali “recounts an instance in which a man knifed the Angelus and was put in an insane asylum, and uses that anecdote to make a point about the painting’s unpredictable power: exactly what David Freedberg and Leo Steinberg were to chronicle over forty years later.  [... He also wrote] an essay explaining “Why They Attack the Mona Lisa”; [wherein] it divides assailants into “ultra–intellectuals” such as Duchamp, and “more-or-less Bolivians” who throw “pebbles,” or just steal the image” 8.

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The Angelus is similar in composition to the Gleaners, in that the background extends out and away from the subject. Millet is said to have drawn inspiration by the memory if having to recite the Angelus prayer upon hearing the toll of the church bell9. However the tiny indication of the church, fading away in the background serves to both to indicate the context in which the subject should be considered, but also physically depicts the physical and representational distance between them. “Millet pictured not the rift that modernization had driven between rustics and the land but a nostalgic union of humankind and nature”10. What is foremost delineated are the two figures engaged in solemn thanksgiving within the sustenance borne of the soil. “The shift in attitude toward Millet, The Gleaners, and The Angelus in France owed not to the workings of the marketplace but to nostalgia and to the creation of a fluid republican national identity in France in the generation after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune” 11. The socio-political upheaval uncertainty in France encouraged the public to take solace in the simple and unchanging rural scene, and the direct relationship between need and satisfaction ie)hunger/food, purpose/job.

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Similarly, there are other examples of rural idolatry from this era, including Ploughing in Nivernais” (Rosa Bonheur), 1850. Bonheur, in contrast to Millet, enjoyed a great deal of success in her lifetime. “Photographic realism is the hallmark of her work, yet she rises far above mere photographic representation. She was intelligent, conscientious, & hard working. She believed in honesty in art & kept as close to nature as she could” 12. Bonheur studied animal anatomy and osteology and dedicated her life to the honest and factual depiction of animals. She was met with wide success of her realistic rural depictions. Nivernais was a commission awarded to her by the Second Republican government of France. “The inspiration for this famous painting may be from a novel by George Sand, the pen-name of Baroness Dudevant (1804-1876). In “The Devil’s Pool” (1846), she wrote about the displacement of peasants and farmers by industrialization, and espoused a return to nature” 13.

boeufsanother example, Boeufs allant au labour, effet de matin (Troyon, Constant) 1855.

In contrast to Millet, however the scene was not interpreted as a critique of the upper and middle classes, it was instead thought of as an loving depiction of simple life and stability, ideals which were yearned for within France. Unlike Millet’s Gleaners and Angelus, they are not bathed in golden warming light, they are illuminated in cold, clear light as if to indicate there is no question to the motivation or appreciation of the subject, it is purely Realism. “It is primarily an animal scene, whose heroes are the horse themselves, leaving little room for the man: the herdsman is very small on the canvas. It is a hymn to work in the fields whose magnitude is even more magnified it is easy to oppose, in the aftermath of revolution, the depravity of the city” 14. The public’s desires for stability and tranquility was reflected in their artistic interests. “They found solace in their image of what they considered unchanging: country life. In Labourage they see the sunny blue sky, the hills and moving oxen create a comfortable flow across the canvas. There is harmony between man and beast” 15.

1 “Story behind the picture – The Gleaners”. University of St. Andrews. Retrieved 2008-01-10.

2 http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~waste/timeline/story-pic1.html

3 Kleiner, Fred; Christian J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (12 ed.). California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning. 2005.

4 Erickson, K. At Eternity’s Gate: The Spiritual Vision Of Vincent van Gogh. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman Publishing. 1998. pp. 150–151.

5 W. Walton et al., Chefs-d`oeuvre de l`exposition universelle de Paris, 1889 (Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1889), 53.

6, 10, 11 http://www.mutualart.com/OpenArticle/France-Embraces-Millet–The-Intertwined-/65DB908A334354D8

7 Theophile Silvestre. Catalogue des 95 dessins de J.-F. Millet composant la collection de M. Gavet (Paris: Pillet, 1875) ; and Catalogue de la vente qui aura lieu par suite du deces de Jean-Francois Millet, peintre, sale cat., Hotel Drouot, Paris, May 10-11, 1875.

8 http://305737.blogspot.fr/2013/03/chapter-81-salvador-dali.html

9 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=339

12, 15 http://ringlingdocents.org/pages/bonheur.htm

13 http://www.themasterpiececards.com/famous-paintings-reviewed/bid/18772/Famous-Paintings-Plowing-in-the-Nivernais

14 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/collections/oeuvres-commentees/recherche/commentaire/commentaire_id/labourage-nivernais-31.html

Luxembourg

juste un autre jour à paris

For such lovely weather, it’s good to spend time outdoors. So, we biked down to the 6th and decided to go to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a nice afternoon stroll. The Luxembourg gardens were very nice, very lush and pleasing, with a nice variety of sculptures and long treed avenues.

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riffraff

The central fountain is encircled with an elevated area with lots of shaded seating to relax and enjoy the fresh air. Also, the fountains had cute little sailboats for the kids to play with in the fountain, which is nice. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a little off the beaten path, but it wasn’t completely inundated with tourists and busybodies like The Tuileries. There are also lots of winding paths to enjoy, enclosed graveled areas for bocce, and a kids playground.

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There were also lots of cool  varieties of trees growing, including many different varieties of citrus trees, palm trees and lots of amazing kinds of rhododendrons. There were very vibrant and lavish colour-coordinated gardens, usually surrounding some kind of sculpture. They also had picnicing lawns on rotation to preserve the grass. Royal parks are much better when they let the normal riffraff use them.

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Continuing our adventure we walked over to the nearby Panthèon. Now, today was – everything is free in Paris day – and it’s a good thing too because the Pantheon kinda sucked and I’m glad I didn’t pay money to see it. Granted, it was under construction for good reason, it’s basically falling apart, but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to pay admission. The dome, probably one of the most amazing things about the Panthèon was not only closed for renovations, but they covered it with this horrible sheet that had a print out of a bunch of people’s faces on it. I don’t really get it. It probably would have looked better and less distracting if they just put a sheet overtop.

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They also removed Foucault’s pendulum (created and installed at the Panthèon by Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth) though its just a copy and the real one is at Arts et Métiers. It would have been nice to see it set up where it was originally used! They also have huge temporary walls set up with information about various historical figures. This is nice I guess but they’re covering up the massive and awesome frescoes that are in situ! Also, people, please stop touching artworks. I don’t understand why people feel the need to get greasy, dirty fingerprints all over ancient frescoes. Be polite! I managed to see the collection of frescoes depicting Joan of Arc which were very nice, even though they were basically hidden behind these temporary walls!

Jeanne au bûcher

read right to left : angels tell Joan to go fight, Joan goes to fight,
Joan gets Charles VII crowned, Joan is martyred.

The Panthèon was originally intended to be a  church dedicated to St. Geneviève, but after the revolution was changed to a mausoleum for the interment of distinguished French citizens. Many important figures are interred here, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo,  Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, Jean-Paul Marat, and some famous mathies such as Gaspard Monge, Lazare Carnot and Joseph-Louis Lagrange. Unfortunately, all of the adornments were missing from the mausoleum as they just completed refinishing the walls and most of the tombs were either completely empty of being used for storage. For shame! Regardless, Rousseau and Voltaire’s tombs were still available to see and were very impressive. Afterwards, we stopped in at Paroisse Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas to check out their lovely church and learn about its construction from a lovely woman who spoke to us in really simple terms once we explained we didn’t speak French very well.

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Moving on, we grabbed a quick lunch and biked down the Seine to the Place de la Concorde (the largest square in Paris) to check out its famous fountains and Egyptian Obelisk. We then headed up the Champs d’Élysées and got stuck behind a giant group of cycling enthusiasts who were biking from London to Paris. Good on them, but they were really slow. I’ve heard much about this area and its fabulous high end shopping.. but man did I ever feel poor as I passed haute-couture store after haute-couture store, zipping past personal limos waiting for high class shoppers. Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada.. just one after another like some kind of twilight zone. We ducked away from the  Champs d’Élysées towards that big pointy tower thing.. what’s it called..

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The nice thing about La Tour Eiffel is that you can walk around underneath it and truly appreciate its size. Its not often you can do this at a large building or monument, I think, nor can you look inside the walls to see its structure. That being said it doesn’t make a for a good umbrella, so when the storm rolled in we had to duck in a nearby doorway to escape the downpour. The tower would have been more romantic, I think.

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Sometimes, even when you make the effort to get nice veg on the way home to make a nice dinner, you get home and realize that you’re so fucking hungry you just eat bread and cheese until you pass out to watch Futurama for the rest of the night. I was going to say something judgmental about that.. but it’s pretty good, actually.

IMG_7061just another day in Paris

tuileries

le chant interrompu

Usually, long after my SO has gone to bed, I’m up late blogging or editing photos or working working on some kindof arty thing. Unfortunately the little time we have to share together gets minimized when I sleep in and miss breakfast. So after staying up past 4am I woke up around 7:30 with my SO to try and adjust my schedule. Yeah. So to keep myself from lounging around and being sleepy I decided it would be a good idea to go out and see the sights!

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After passing by a few vélib stations that only had seriously broken-down bikes I finally found a mostly usable vélo and made my way downtown. I’m kindof getting the hang of the street layout, but I have to make a serious effort to bear right more than I think I should have to. Otherwise I always end up in the west end. Alas, as they say; All roads lead to.. the Bastille.

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giant lampost-baby mocks your pathetic sense of direction! muhaha!

Oh well. I ditched my vélo and tried to find a landmark that I knew was nearby : Place des Vosges. I had read about it that morning, but didn’t really look into it because I didn’t think I would be in that end of town. After a little searching, we found each other. Places des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris, built in 1612 by Henri IV. There is a fine statue of Louis XIII, erected in 1818 to replace the original which was melted down during the Revolution. The surrounding buildings are all the same, made of red brick with white stone stripes and vaulted arches.

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look at the trees! they match the square’s perfect squareness!

The garden’s weren’t really that impressive, they were tidy but very modest, and all of the fountains were turned off. Even so there were still hordes of art students sitting in the grass drawing the fountain fixtures and possibly the maintenance workers. On my way out I passed a number of expensive restaurants and small art galleries, one of which featured the same kind of optical illusion I saw in the Escher museum in Amsterdam. I love those!!

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Making my way through the fifth, I ended up on Rue Étienne Marcel and biked around for a while looking for a vélib station that had a free spot. My next stop was the Jardin des Tuileries, the much hyped-up 70 acre palace gardens originally created by Catherine de Medici in 1564. The gardens here are absolutely massive and highly manicured. All trees are clipped to a certain size, the flowers are grown in neat rows deposited smack in the middle of neatly trimmed perfectly carpeted grass.. and of course there’s a little fence around anything growing so you cant ever go near it.

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This place is so perfectly organized  I find it a bit stressful rather than relaxing. However the locals seem to love it and there’s no lack of green chair to sit and relax. I don’t know if today was fountain cleaning day or what, but there weren’t any fountains on, except for one you could smell a mile away. It was one of those boring ones where a jet just shoots some water straight into the air, so of course there are lots of tiny particles of water misting around the area. Normally, this would be kindof nice but this was the most disgusting fountain I have ever seen. I believe it was originally some type of koi pond because there were almost imperceptible orange blobs swimming around in the brown muck. It smelled like a stagnant pool /hobo bath house.

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That being said, if you can find a tiny building to duck into on the west end of the garden, it contains a nice garden-related bookstore! I managed to find a book written by a rosa-horticultural genius David Austin discussing the various types of heirloom roses and their history! Awesome! David Austin roses are my favourite and someday… someday I will grow my own!

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you’re welcome for not taking a picture of the hobo bath house

For a garden there was very little beauty of nature. However, there were some nice statues, and the Louvre peeking out at the end of the garden isn’t a bad thing to look at. Also, I really like all the street crossings nearby because you can tell who has been walking around the Tuileries due to the dusty white footprints they leave on the pavement.

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My favourite new saying is “c’est parfait!”. I usually say it as a nicety when people do things for me, like put together my order at the boulangerie, bag my purchases at the magasin, or help me mail things at the post office. I’ve been saying it so much, I even say it when bad things happen, like when the strap on my purse gets caught around a barrier-post and I nearly go flying, or when I get wedged in some inescapable bike lane between trucks and some douche has parked his motorbike directly across the whole lane. C’est parfait! Granted I’ve been known to be a little insincere.

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 Moving on, I then biked down the eastern part of Ave. Champs-Élysées, checking out some nice canal views, while trying to bike as rule-abidingly as I could infront of the massive amounts of police for some reason, and eventually found my way to the Petit Palais. It’s exactly what you might think. It’s a little palace. It’s across the street from a bigger palace. But down the road from the even bigger palace. I don’t know what in Paris wasn’t once a palace.

IMG_6972wait, thats the petit palace? ok don’t look across the street then.

Everything in that neighborhood is just enormous grand architecture built by some king-or-another and probably has some cool history with the revolution(s). I don’t know if you’re meant to tour Paris this long.. because eventually it all just mashes itself into one big fancy building and I’m not impressed anymore. Well, not entirely. If you get tired of looking at nice buildings from the outside, just head on in because damn it’s nice inside too!

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The Petit Palais is now an art gallery and admission is free. Always. There was lots of Courbet, whom I never liked, but I got to spend some time in the courtyard imagining what it might be like to live in a place like this, and in the basement found some really nice paintings made by people I’ve never heard of.

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The first painting that really caught my eye was “Jean Carriès dans son atelier” (Louise Breslau), 1887. Breslau was a German-Swiss painter who achieved much success in Paris until the First World War, and afterwards in Switzerland. She won the World Fairs gold medal in 1900 and in 1901 became a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the third woman and first foreign woman to do so. The subject of her painting was a young artist, Carriès whose imaginative and often horrific sculptures captivated much attention. Carriès’ work is said to be a “junction between tradition and modernity [... and that he] spent his life pursuing an artistic ideal that the plastic covers genuine metaphysical event” 1. The thing that struck me most about this painting is the light and lively treatment of the subject matter, and the depiction of the artist’s process. I don’t know how you can depict creativity, but she’s done it!

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Another lovely work is “Ophélie” (Paul Albert Steck), 1894. The story of Ophelia (Hamlet) is romantic and tragic, and is one depicted frequently in paintings. The majority of these paintings show the drowned (or drowning) Ophelia from above the waterline, however Steck’s depiction is completely submerged, allowing the viewer to be more involved in the experience. The treatment of the underwater scene is gentle and flowing, the tendrils of aquatic plants mimicking her long hair as if to indicate her impending anchoring to the bottom of the lake. The attention paid to the texture of the bubbles, fabric and flower petals is really as lovely as it is haunting.

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man, I didn’t know santa was a dutch woman

Farther on down the basement corridor there is a small chamber adorned with plenty of nice Dutch paintings including “The interrupted song” (Frans van Mieris “the younger”), 1671. The small painting depicts a young woman who previously was preoccupied with singing a song (as indicated by the sheet music in her lap) but is interrupted by a man offering her a drink. There are a number of fine elements in this painting painted in delicate and loving detail, such as the vase of flowers, the sleeping dog on the cushion, the twinkle of light on the glass, and the satiny texture of her gown. The inclusion of a dog in Dutch paintings often is meant to indicate fidelity, and the husband offers his wife a symbolically full glass. Indeed, the entire work is very finely crafted with much love and devotion. “This style of painting has undertones of gallantry, with the association of music and love so common in Dutch painting of the 17th century representing the artist and his wife Cunera van der Cock (1629/1630 – 1700). It also illustrates the theme of the five senses” 2.

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After my palais excursion I decided it would be a good idea to start heading back towards downtown, while following the Seine of course. There are a number of nice parks and greenspace surrounding the petit and grand palais to check out. Included was a nice bas relief with (non smelly) koi pond.. and birds!

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I also managed to find a bagel shop that has fantastically amazing bagels. They also have humerous photos on the wall and signed pictures of celebrities, which I think are jokes because the majority of them just has a funny caption written on. They also say they’ve been in business since 1789 and if you check that out on their website they have a hilarious family tree of “bagelsteins” with photos ranging from astronauts to folks in straight jackets.. and enviably many “paninis” and “sandweeches” married in to the family. Awesome atmosphere, even awesomer food… I managed to get mine just before the queue exploded.

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Oh, and I also managed to find a very cool floral archway. The florists were busy not only creating it but taking pictures for people who wanted to pose with it. I opted for an OP-less photo.

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1 http://www.latribunedelart.com/jean-carries-la-matiere-de-l-etrange

2 http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en/collections/interrupted-song

18headera

obtenez-vous la blague ?

On the top floor of the Louvre, in the corridor opposite the escalators lives many famous and celebrated Dutch paintings. Of these, there are many fine examples of the ever cultivated Dutch Genre painting, which is characterized by detailed realism, moralizing overtones, and simple depictions of common life. Painting in the Netherlands underwent a great change in the 17th century, due in part to the demands of the growing middle class. As trade routes were opening up, and industrial and agricultural advancements allowed for more income and more free time, many people were moving to the cities, especially for commerce. At the same time, the invention of the printing press allowed more accessible eduction, faster and more broad sharing of ideas, and giving a voice to the individual. This, coupled with the Protestant reformation rapidly changed the types of artwork desired and being produced.

The Protestant Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther’s ninety-five point manifesto against the corruption of the Catholic church, namely the sale of “indulgences” (buying a pass to get into heaven). The questioning of corruption and abuse prevalent in the church lead to a split in Christianity into Roman Catholics and Protestants. The reformation took strong roots in northern Europe, where radical changes to churches took place, such as the destruction of any idolatry, ie) sculpture, stained glass, paintings, frescoes, and basically anything that an artist made a living on and generally devoted their life to. Religious works were suppressed, if not banned and works were thoroughly and violently destroyed. This iconoclasm, or “beeldenstorm” led therefore a huge reduction in the amount of religious art created for places of worship. However, one of the principle elements of the Protestant reformation, and largely due to the printing press’ influence, was developing a personal relationship with God rather than relying on a intermediary body to direct you. Therefore a demand grew for private icons and the depictions religious ideals through allegory.

The rise of the middle class and the emergence of Protestantism allowed for a plethora of artists to emerge to create a wide array of works of a considerably different in subject and execution. The Calvinist rejection of iconography all but eliminated the church-funded commissions that were historically an artist’s bread and butter. More and more artists turned to the middle class, who chose to spend their extra income on home furnishings, or commissions of a personal nature (ie. Portraits). An interesting note is that with the rise in literacy and the distribution of personal literature, many 17th century Netherlanders had access to what were called “emblem books” : emblematic images with corresponding text. These emblem books allowed for the average person to be able to interpret visual cues into ideas, or more commonly, moral lessons. Most modern people aren’t able to decipher these mnemonic devices and sometimes it can be hard to “get” the point or appreciate the irony of the works. That being said, there are still a number of works that are pretty obvious in their scathing depictions of debauchery.  One fine example is “La Mauvaise compagnie” (Jan Steen), 1670.

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Voor herberg, achter bordeel

In addition to his practice as an artist, Steen also kept a tavern. “As well as additional income, this provided him with a rich source of material based on the behavior and characters of his customers. In this painting, the depiction of contemporary manners is combined with a serious underlying theme: the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), who squanders away his inheritance on licentious living and prostitutes”1. The scene is laid out fairly clearly; the inebriated man falling into the lap of his enabling companion as he drunkenly gropes for his dropped pipe. The poor fellow gets pickpocketed  by the other lady of the evening, and evidence of their debaucherous stint litters the floor : empty oyster shells, playing cards, cigarette butts and his dropped and subsequently forgotten hat. Yet as the fellow reaches his limit for the night, there is no indication that the activity stops there. There will always be more music, more thieving, more drunken revelry.

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“er.. jes hanggon a sec…onf.. I drop..ped my pipe.. “

To go off on a tangent, these paintings remind me of punk music. Strangely enough, they follow a similar pattern; to compose a song or painting, which on the surface glorifies a atrocious thing, but in it’s obvious horror we see the irony. I’m not really saying they’re the same thing.. punk music prides itself on pushing buttons and making jokes. But the irony of these paintings is pretty evident. Coming very quickly after a time in which only the most revered and beautiful subjects were committed to paint, is it not strange to turn the corner and suddenly all the pictures you see are of drunken bumbling fools, hookers and riffraff?

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© Amos Kennedy

What does it mean to commit something to paint? For many years if you weren’t Jesus or kings or some kind of Greek mythology, you weren’t good enough to go on canvas. Then later, if you were rich enough, you could afford it. Nowadays I have seen all manner of things committed to paint that it seems there is no low too low. It’s within the context of the “joke” that makes these paintings really special, and more importantly worth looking at even though the times have changed quite a bit since their day. The moral lessons of Dutch genre painting often depict interior scenes of loose women and drunken fools, a common occurrence as indicated by the Dutch proverb Voor herberg, achter bordeel.. or, Inn in the front, brothel in the back. Even without knowing historical or biblical stories, or the context of emblems and other iconography, we can read these images like a book and glean a pretty full moral story from it. Don’t get wasted with a bunch of strange women at a party or you might get your pockets picked. No offense, ladies.

Genre painting also depicted scenes from everyday life, such as sprawling landscapes, simple peasant life or seemingly banal personal actions such as pouring milk, reading a letter or taking a stroll. Artists in the 17th century Netherlands “elevated what was critically regarded as a humble form to heights of desirability rivaling more classically esteemed subjects. [...]  Indeed, a large facet of a genre scene’s appeal was the opportunity it afforded to gaze into a private interior much like the one in which it might have hung and, in many cases, to identify with the values expressed by the subject”2. Another fine example of Dutch genre painting is “Joueurs de cartes dans un riche intérieur” (Pieter de Hooch).

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“looking at ones cards is a crutch for players who rely on skill”

This painting is very small, but very rich and velvety in its treatment of the paint, the shining marble floor, imposing fireplace and rich velvet drapes absolutely dripping with luxury. This rich and decadent interior mirrors the indulgent lifestyle the room provides, where they can “discreetly enjoy the company of accommodating young ladies. [...] Here, love is a game that may be cheated at like any other, as the hand proudly displayed by the beautiful courtesan – four aces – seems to suggest”3. The young men are eager to engage the ladies, either in a game of cards or a intimate moment by the window, but the simple young maid, timidly waits to fill their glasses and hesitates at interrupting their goings-on. Indeed the technical expression of opulence lends itself to the interpretation of the sumptuous lifestyle of the young people and the hesitation of the simple maid.

1 Lessing, Erich and Vincent Pomarède. The Louvre All the Paintings. New York : Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011.

2 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gnrn/hd_gnrn.htm

3 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/card-players-opulent-interior