commune

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

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la Canadienne étrange

My SO has returned from Marseille finally, so my schedule has changed back from sleeping in late and sitting around in brasseries drinking bière and musing about artistic and historical conservation. Instead we caught up on life and looked at pictures of beautiful Marseille. It’s really gorgeous in the mountain and coastline regions and I was able to view many nice landscapes courtesy of my SO who trekked for hours to the tip top to capture them.

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holy foothills, batman!

Yesterday we also received another IHP student who needed a place for a night until he could get the keys to his apartment in Paris. Our apartment may not be the biggest but there’s always room for friends. So being his first day in Paris we just went out and walked about in the downtown, mostly around Île de la Cité where we were treated to ice cream and milled around watching the huge lineup to get into the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (it extended out of the building and around the square). We walked around the courtyards and surrounding gardens and found a bench not completely covered in bird shit to sit a while and chat.

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ding dong

After a bit we departed to meet some more friends for dinner. Outside of the Notre Dame there was a superb statue street performer, who when you give some euros breaks his act and invites you over for a picture.

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“…la fille français is not amused by your antics”

We previously arranged to meet our friends for dinner, and agreed to meet at a métro stop. Now, in Canada there are usually one or two entrances to a subway station, but here there are lots. Usually around 5 or 6. So if you agree to meet your friends at the métro stop, they could basically be anywhere the a two block radius. Regardless once we located each other we headed off for dinner and ended up at a very busy Japanese restaurant. SO and I ordered Udon, and our friends had rice bowls. Super yummy! And somewhat reasonably priced, which is a difficult thing to find in Paris. Usually if you are just walking around a lot of the restaurants are usually € 30 for a two or three course dinner. In order for me to spend $45 CAD on a meal, it would have to be a really special occasion. So I’m not really accustomed to spending this much on dinner.. but SO and I managed to get our two Udon for € 33, not bad! We meandered a while after dinner, got some espresso and chilled and chatted, very nice. Afterwards headed home for some much needed rest.

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Île de la Cité

Today our friend left and we went out for a long walk, after the obligatory croissant and espresso of course. We headed down to the 20th and went to the Cimetière Père Lachaise and wandered through the tombs and had some interesting discussions on burials, last wishes, grieving and memorials. I know I have some strange and unusual opinions on such things. It’s definitely nice to have a SO who is equally weird. It’s not fun to have someone to balance you out, it’s better to match, imho. We discussed the importance (or actually lack thereof) of having a dedicated, visitable “plot” or tomb and instead entertained notions of rock climbing walls and water slides. Why not? We are generally in agreement that once we’re dead we’re not going to know what our final resting place will consist of, so what is going to matter is your legacy. Who doesn’t want a water slide legacy? Just sayin’.

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retour à la nature

We also determined it would be good to donate yourself to scientific research. That’s a pretty good legacy, too. Unless you just get chopped up by some first year who later drops out to join the circus. That must tarnish it a bit. My favourite plots were those reclaimed by age; ancient rock broken and crumbling, covered in tree branches and ivy, and even the big stones laid down return back to the earth and enshrouded in the embrace of nature. I like that.

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“svp”

We endeavoured to go visit Fourier and Laplace and other stupidly famous mathematicians, but unfortunately they didn’t make the list of notable figures on the big map. C’est dommage! Of course if you follow the hordes of gum chewing swaggering half drunk weirdos up the winding hill and through the tombs desecrated by graffiti and scrawled names towards the sound of music playing out of some tiny dollar-store speaker, towards the smell of rotting heaps of flowers and cigarettes you will find Jim Morrison’s grave. It’s pretty disgusting. As much as I am a fan, and by fan I mean totally-obsessed-owning-every-possible-LP-and-book-and-poem-totally-encyclopedic-knowledge-filled-wide-eyed-super-fan, the disgusting decorum of these fans is sad.

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“haw!”

I don’t mind so much milling around smoking hash and drinking wine sadly humming Doors songs and thinking about this person you admire so much, it’s more the people who desperately want to take some kind of ownership of the space and endeavour to make their mark, whether its carving their name in some poor neighbor’s tomb, sticking their gum (and I mean thousands of bits of chewed gum) in some nearby ash tree, coating the bannisters that are in place to keep the rabble out in layers of meaningless stickers or leaving condoms, wine corks, cigarette butts and otherwise trash around the site or pinning it up somewhere so it doesn’t get swept away? How reprehensible is your demeanour that you think spewing your trash allover a cemetery is admirable? Not that Jim Morrison promoted proper behaviour, but standing up for things that are important to you and you feel need to be said, and sticking your refuse in somebody’s gravestone are two different things.

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“Victimes des révolutions”

Just outside the cimetière is the Square Samuel-de-Champlain which is a lovely hilly garden that houses the Victimes des révolutions, by Paul Moreau-Vauthier. This bas-relief sculpture is often mistakenly called the mur fédérés but is actually a tribute to the victims on both sides of the revolutions. It is meant to be a general monument, with ghostly anguished faces lightly carved into the wall, with the figure of a woman standing in front. The stones of the wall, however, are the actual stones from the wall where one hundred and forty seven “fédérés” (combatants of the Paris Commune, France’s oldest labour movement and socialist government that briefly ruled Paris after the Franco-Prussian war), were lined up and shot and thrown in a trench at the foot of the wall. Père Lachaise was the last remaining stronghold of the uprising, with a long and difficult battle fought in between the tombs and through the night, which ultimately ended in the horrible demise of those remaining few that surrendered, who joined the thousands before them that died in the gallows and on the streets of Paris. The anguish on the ghostly faces lightly carved into the wall fill your heart with dread and despair, contrasted with the goddess whose splayed body both enacts the execution and stands in front of the victims with arms extended as if to protect them. The bullet holes lodged in the stones speaks haunting tales to any viewer who beholds it, and while it isn’t specifically for the fédérés, they are a few of the hundreds of thousands of souls lost in the historical, political turmoil of France.

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marseille…marseille…

After a long and meandering walk through the cimetière we stopped into a nice restaurant for three-course lunch. I had caprese salad, chicken in mushroom creme sauce and crème caramel and a café au lait for dessert. SO had les œufs au mayonnaise, roasted pork with cauliflower casserole and chocolate mousse for dessert. Damn, french cuisine is so good. Afterwards, we found (much to my delight) a very mishmash and very thrifty street antiques sale. There were many boxes laid out to dig through the piles of old dishes, shaving kits, broken watches, figurines, old photos, violins, coffee grinders and anything-and-everything wrought iron. There were also occasional stands selling artisinal meats, cheese and crêpes. You seem to find the strangest places to spend money on a Sunday when all the regular stores are closed. We then headed back to the 19th, started dinner cooking and caught up on some work for the week as we waited. On Sundays, I sometimes find a modest sized chicken and cook it up for my SO and I, and am reminded of Henry IV of France who stated “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” I often think of this quote when we sit down to our humble and yet delectably wholesome meal. Granted, I usually substitute a pot for an oven.. or these days.. toaster oven.

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another Marseille picture, because it’s fucking gorgeous, that’s why.