Monday, 26 March 2007

Paris Photos: a visit to Musée d'Orsay

Main Hall, Musée d'Orsay
(click for virtual visit)
The museum building was originally a railway station, Gare d'Orsay, constructed for the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans and finished in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle to the design of three architects: Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux. It was the terminus for the railways of southwestern France until 1939.
By 1939 the station's short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains that had come to be used for mainline services. After 1939 it was used for suburban services and part of it became a mailing center during World War II. The station's hotel closed on 1 January 1973.
In 1977 the French Government decided to convert the station to a museum and it was opened by President François Mitterrand on 1 December 1986.

La Méditerranée: Aristide Maillol

L'ile de France: Aristide Maillol

Maillol was born in Banyuls-sur-Mer, Roussillon. He decided at an early age to become a painter, and moved to Paris in 1881 to study art. After several applications, his enrollment in the École des Beaux-Arts was accepted in 1885, and he studied there under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexandre Cabanel. His early paintings show the influence of his contemporaries Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin.

The subject of nearly all of Maillol's mature work is the female body, treated with a classical emphasis on stable forms. The figurative style of his large bronzes is perceived as an important precursor to the greater simplifications of Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, and his serene classicism set a standard for European (and American) figure sculpture until the end of World War II.

This life-sized portrait is striking for its deliberate lack of depth. The young woman, her profile sharply cut out with a vigorous, supple line, is standing in front of a seascape. Her studied pose gives her a stiff look, despite the artificially floating ribbons of her dress. The disparity between the figure and the background clearly shows that the portrait was painted in the studio. It has been added to a simplified landscape, treated as bands of colour. Far from producing the outdoor sensations that the Impressionists strove for, Maillol has painted a motionless figure in a classical, decorative manner. The figure seen from the side against a flat background suggests a tapestry, an art in which Maillol also excelled.The pale, contrasting colours contribute to the sense of harmony that emanates from the picture. The symbolic nature of this large, still figure by the sea is nonetheless attenuated by the painstaking description of the face and the care taken over certain details of her clothing, such as the gloves, parasol and hat. Midway between an allegory and a faithful portrait, Woman with a Parasol is regarded as the masterpiece of Maillol's career as a painter.

Ernest Barrias: Nature Unveiling Herself to Science.

The statue was commissioned in 1889 to decorate the new medical school in Bordeaux. A young woman, the allegory of nature, is slowly lifting the veils she is wrapped in. When he had finished the first version in white marble for the school, Barrias designed a second statue in polychrome, for the ceremonial staircase of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, in Paris. He used marble and onyx from the newly reopened quarries in Algeria.

Carefully carved to enhance the decorative qualities of the materials, the various parts of the statue play on the veins in the ribboned onyx for the veil, the mottled effect of the red marble for the robe, the preciousness of lapis lazuli for the eyes and malachite for the scarab and coral for the mouth and lips. The overall effect is surprisingly rich.

The work belongs to a major revival of polychrome sculpture launched by archaeological discoveries and illustrated fifty years earlier by Cordier. The statue was very popular and many copies were made.

Schoolchildren learning about Paul Signac's Women at the Well.

In 1892, Signac decided to leave Paris for Saint-Tropez where he was to spend six months a year until 1913. After making several small-format paintings of the harbour in Saint-Tropez during the summer 1892, Signac, the following year, set about a large composition, Le Temps d'Harmonie, an allegory of the ideal society and an illustration of happy life. In one of his first sketches for this painting, one can see two women busy drawing water from a well. Signac decided to isolate these two characters and to devote a painting to them. All the elements of the landscape in which he set the scene really exist in Saint-Tropez : the hill with the citadel at the top, the sea and the jetty of the harbour, the Maures hill and the Estérel foothills, but the painter synthesised them at his will, creating a new landscape on the canvas after several drawings and preparatory studies.

For me the Musée d'Orsay is the museum to visit in Paris (forget the Louvre) followed closely by Musée Maillol. The d'Orsay has paintings by many of my favourite impressionist painters along with a fantastic collection of Sculpture, Decorative arts, Photography, Graphic arts and Architecture. If you haven't visited the museum then follow the link above to the official web site, where you can see many of the items on show along with background information.