Today began with another vélib trip downtown. The vélib is a really nice way to start the day. For some reason (probably because we’re on a hill) there usually aren’t any bikes available right by our house. Fortunately it’s a short walk to the next station and it really doesn’t take long to find an available bike. So after a nice short stroll we set out on our journey, with a vague idea of what route we should take. We got lost a few times, but I can’t really say that I mind.
There were a lot of neighbourhoods and stores I’ve made a mental note of to check out later. We were having a grand old time until we crossed the Seine and started going uphill. Whoo boy! I mean, I know I’m out of shape, but I almost died of fatigue. Not really how I want to feel on vacation! Also, we went over our time and got fined 1 EUR. Not a big deal, but we weren’t allowed to rent any more bikes until we paid up.. and you can only do that at certain locations. Oh well! So we parked our vélos and decided to check out what this crazy long line stretching around the square was all about. It was the line for the catacombs, which unfortunately is where we were headed today! Oh well. The good news is we can just come back another day. It’s just too bad I killed myself cycling to get there. So from there we stopped in the nearest brasserie to quench our thirst with lovely Grimbergen (Belgian) bière. Wow. Super delicious. And not just because I biked for an hour and 15.
Next, we popped into a nearby cemetery, presumably to satisfy our macabre appetite that should have been satiated at the catacombs. Paris cemeteries are very different than back home. The plots are often raised tombs, or even big vaults, as opposed to Canada where they are predominantly garden-based with generously spaced plots and few raised markers. That being said, space is at a premium here and its no surprise everything is tightly fit to accommodate the millions of deceased. Even though, the large (read: tall) vaults are beautiful and ornate, offering family a quiet and private space to enter, pray, and leave flowers. Many have stained glass and wrought iron, ostensibly tiny chapels. They have an air of quiet melancholic beauty and sad, wistful elegance. We wandered around and found the tomb of Henri Poincaré, who was a mathematician who made fundamental contributions to the field as well as physics and celestial mechanics. The IHP, which is holding the session for which SO is attending, is named after him.
Next, we biked up to the Louvre to pop in and see more stuff. Cause, why not! The thing that is crazy about the Louvre, well one thing, is that it was a crazy 12th century fortress/Royal palace. You cannot walk down the surrounding boulevard without being completely in awe of it. Forget the pyramid, this place is awesome!
So after taking however many billions of steps it takes to actually get around the courtyard and into the building, we headed this time to the 1st floor. Now, remember when I said this place was a crazy 12th century fortress/royal palace? Well you can’t go very far without seeing some amazing original architecture and decor. Sometimes, when you’re looking at a really nice painting, just let your eyes wander up to the ceiling where you will see an equally amazing thing! We also got to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace’s new badass pedestal, on the bow of a ship as she was originally displayed in 200BC. Lookin’ good!
Royal Quarters, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Sculpture Hallway, and Badass Armour
just look up. i dare you.
We also checked out some good friends : La Jeune Martyre (Delaroche), La nuit ; un port de mer au clair de lune (Vernet), Magdalena-Bay, vue prise de la presqu’ile des tombeaux, au nord do Spitzberg ; effet d’aurore boréal (Biard), and Atala au tombeau (Girodet de Roussy Trioson). We also said hello to some new friends : Jeunne homme nu assis au bord de la mer (Flandrin), Le Tricheur (La Tour), Le Pandemonium (Martin), Pygmalion et Galatée (Girodet de Roussy Trioson), and Vue d’intérieur / Les Pantoufles (Hoogstraten). We also stopped for sushi dinner halfway thru that big list. Benefits of having a membership!
La Jeune Martyre always draws me in from across the room. There is so much darkness in this painting, literally, it almost swallows everything within; save the heavenly illumination of her fine halo. The light glows on her beautiful face, warming what is a chilling scene and giving you a sense of warmth and comfort blanketing the girl. In addition, the light the halo provides extends and reflects in the depths of the water and the soaked folds of her gown in such a sadly realistic way it makes you want to cry. I have viewed this piece before and was equally drawn in before, but what I noticed this time was in the top left corner there is a shadowy figure of some people, just barely visible in the faintest glow of the sunrise, and a hint of the bow of a small boat.
Remember in that other post when I said I loved painted night scenes with one light source? Yeah, La Nuit is another reason why. Granted you could argue there are two light sources but I would tell you that I think the faint light of the bonfire literally and metaphorically fades quickly and pales in comparison to the brilliant and far-reaching luminescence of the full moon. This painting is a beautiful thing, but is also a dichotomy almost literally split in two. On the right, the figures are turning away and ignoring the moon and it’s gifts, instead huddling around the fire to glean some comfort from its temporal existence. On the other side, the figures are preoccupied with savouring the helpful glow : navigating ships, fishing off the dock. Literally, food and transportation. Also they don’t seem very cold as if the provision they receive are sufficiently fulfilling… . The quality of light in this piece, to which no jpg could do it justice, is absolutely captivating and illuminates the world in a very complete way. I might be out to lunch : it might just be a nice painting of some moonlit activities and people enjoying a bonfire, but thinking about different relationships within a work is kindof fun!
Magdalena-Bay is horrifying. At first, when you see it across the room, you see lots of nice sweeping contrasts and brilliant cyan hues and you think to yourself, ooh that looks pretty! However, when you get up close you behold the horror of this work! One of the amazing things about paintings is the ability to tell a story without using any words, so let’s look at what this painting says. It’s cold, it’s very cold and windy and icy. Oh, look there are some people on the shore, oh wait, all of them are dead except one. Hey, what’s that in the water? Oh yeah its a shipwreck. How horrifying would it be to 1) be shipwrecked in a horrible place 2) all your shipmates are dead except for you. That being said, there is a single file of footprints leading off the painting to the right, indicating that one of their crew has gone for help and this poor soul is left to wait with the dead. The snow has begun to pile up on the corpses, indicating that some time has passed. I wonder if the friend with ever come back alive? This business of perpetuity in painting is both fascinating and horrifying. There is no indication of something happening, or going to happen, it’s just this poor soul doomed to forever sit in the freezing cold and wait for help. Help will never come, and there will be no reprieve from his situation. /shudder.
Atala is another one that tugs at the heart strings. The subject is from Chateaubriand‘s romantic novel Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Wilderness; a story of the half-caste Atala who falls in love with Chactas, a native man (America) but Atala has taken a vow to remain a virgin and a Christian, so she commits suicide by poison. I could go on about the unbelievable quality of the persons painted in this scene, how the light and shadow is so masterfully done you believe in your heart you are gazing at the event.. but I could do that about basically anything from this era. The thing that I love about this painting is how quietly painful it is. Father Aubry is trying to do his job and bury this poor lady while Chacatas cannot let her go. Again there is no indication of the passage of time, or that he is just giving her a quick hug before she goes. He will hold on forever.
“The exoticism, the defense of the innocence of primitive peoples and the religious sentiment that characterized the novel are all transposed into the picture. Girodet has not merely illustrated a single scene from Chateaubriand’s novel, he has synthesized several passages.”1
The scene is very quiet but there is definite tension : the old man’s hands pressing in to her sides, attempting to pull her away, her lover clinging with a very tight and unrelenting grip. Even the arrangement of the piece gives you this feeling – the lover curled up in a heavy, stationary form, low to the ground and rooted at the bottom of the painting, and the lady and old man in a light and flowing form, drifting away to the top right, sweeping or floating out of the painting, balanced and anchored also by the tomb archway with the glow of light and the cross – salvation and redemption encompassed in perpetual light.. it indicates balance, permanence and steadfastness.
The jeune homme is a painting I recognized from some art history years passed, but had never taken the time to hang out with it in person. It is a simple painting; the boy quietly sitting by the sea, head down in simple posture in deep rest and contemplation. Yet the sea is a tiny tiny part of this painting. Overwhelmingly, the boy is the main subject matter. Firstly, the quality of the painting is fantastic but moreover it gives an audience to a quiet moment.“The young man shows introspection in deep timelessness“.2 It elevates the importance of man, of his greatness, of his self-analysis, of contemplation, of loneliness and of rest.
Le Tricheur is a nice storytelling piece and allegory. The main figure gets tipped off by the barmaid that her opponent is cheating, as we the viewer gets to see him slip an ace out of his sash. The other guy has no idea what’s going on. He’s a fish. His dress is grand and opulent yet he is young, hinting that he is naïve; proud of the wealth that he spreads out on the table, and becomes drawin into the game by the other players, only to be cheated. The scene dictates a contrast between innocence and vice, and dichotomy of the detailed opulence vs unfinished quality of their physical appearance, yet opposite in their wiles. There are some aspects of this painting that are really fantastic, the layout for example is balanced evenly, the table completely parallel to the edge of the painting with an empty seat, as if you, the viewer, are part of the scene. You literally come to the table and get to see the tricheur showing you his hand, almost smirking while the woman becomes suspicious but insofar is getting away with it. At first glance, the fact that some parts of this painting feel unfinished seems to take away from the experience, as the majority of works in the Louvre are finished to such fine detail, yet it is in the contrast of finished and unfinished that we are given information and guidance to the quality of the characters, their intentions, their downfalls and their fates.
Pandemonium. This one’s fire and brimstone spewed at me from down a hall I didn’t intend on going down today. But if this painting doesn’t capture attention, I don’t know what will. It’s based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, it “denominates the capital of hell created by Satan (literally in Greek, pandemonium means “all the demons”) Satan is held here in the council chamber and presides over the assembly of demons”.3 Huge boiling pits of fiery lava, big sheets of dark cloudy rain, army of millions marching from a giant fortress of evil commanded by a crazy looking Satan with a pike. Yowza.
Pygmalion and Galatée is the Greek story of how the sculptor, Pygmalion, falls in love with the statue that he created. He makes offerings at the altar of Aphrodite, and quietly wishes for a bride to be the living likeness of the ivory statue. When he returns home, he kisses the statue and discovers she is warm to the touch and Aphrodite has granted his wish. Not only is this kindof a nice story, but the soft but perfectly clear application of paint is simply delightful. The gentle but deliberate attention to the faces is what makes this painting perfectly charming, not to mention the brilliant bright light and soft clouds, almost a fog that is bringing Galatée to life.
Vue d’intérrieur – Dutch paintings are the best, the quiet simplicity of everyday life is brilliant. I always find much comfort in these paintings as they spend time with and lovingly record the mundane, but that which we are familiar : the comforting view of our home from the front door, the keys still dangling from the lock, the gentle afternoon glow from the window greets us and says welcome home. The hanging linens, the broom leaning up against the wall, the candle in the holder still askew the way you left it, the reassuring and familiar view of your favourite picture on the wall. Just kick off your shoes and come on in. How nice is that?
Apollo takes a selfie.. with a vanquished serpent. Apollo takes the best selfies.