Sunday, 8 July 2012

Impressionable Works and Lives

Next on the Paris to-list was a visit to Musee d'Orsay.
Cheval a la herse by Pierre-Louis Rouillard at the entrance

My last trip in the mid-80s coincided when the museum first opened in 1986 and at that time it was refreshing to see a train station converted into a gallery, and it was airy and full of light thanks to the high ceilings.

Sculptures were placed around us as if they were in a garden and it was wonderful seeing them in their own space and not crammed together.

This time around though it was pretty crowded as it's understandable the museum has acquired a number of art works since then. The museum also underwent a recent revamp to organize the collection and crowd flow a bit better, even spilling upwards to the second and then fifth floors.

Alfred Jaquemart's Rhinoceros in front of Musee d'Orsay
What is also great for the most part is that major introductions to the themed galleries were presented in French, English and Spanish so that visitors could learn more about the works they were looking at; these were placed at both ends of the long darkened rooms so that everyone was on the same page regardless of where they started from.

Here the art works are carefully taken care of -- no natural light is shining on the paintings unlike some in the Louvre and staff were vigilant about making sure no one  took pictures. It was an environment respectful of the art and in turn educated visitors about enjoying the overall experience through memory rather than photographs.

In my case I learned a lot about the post-Impressionists called the Niubis who rejected naturalism and impressionism. The word comes from the Hebrew nevi'im or "prophets" where this group of artists regarded themselves as the messengers of a new art form based on interpretation of Paul Gaguin's ideas.

He had spearheaded this movement, expounding his theory to Paul Serusier who then influenced these Nubis and their works were demonstrated from 1888 to 1900.

An interior shot of the main hall in Musee d'Orsay
They were more focused on introspection, exploring the twists and turns of the human soul including death. Their work is characterized by simple forms and flat areas of colour. They also preferred more popular media, such as posters, panels, tapestries and even fans and theatre costumes. They liked putting symbols and dreams in their works and were influenced by Japanese prints.

Some of these artists included Franz von Stuck, Frederick Watts, Marianne Stokes, Edgard Maxence and Rene Menard.

The museum also has an amazing collection of furniture from the early 20th century in the Art Deco style. They seem keen to break away from the flourishes of the past centuries like Rococo and Baroque and instead creating organic yet elegant lines. This was evident in large bedroom pieces, desks and chairs.

On the fifth floor the museum is having an interesting exhibition not on an artist or a particular movement -- but on a woman who was the muse and patron for many painters.

Entitled "Misia, Queen of Paris", the show follows the life and times of Marie Sophie Olga Zenaide Godebska, known as Misia who had a turbulent love life that included three husbands.

The exhibition is a collection of paintings and photographs of her as well as a taste of the period in which she lived in.

Vincent van Gogh -- in the metro station, but is in the museum
She was born in St Petersburg in 1872 into a family of musicians and she learned to play piano, quite well but never made it her career. However she would play for friends privately and there are some paintings of her sitting by the piano.

Her first husband was Thadee Natanson, who, with his brothers, founded a cultural and artistic publication called La Revue Blanche (1889-1903) for its white cover, in Belgium.

The magazine was a magnet for writers and innovative artists of the period and it covered political, social and artistic issues.

While Misia didn't directly participate in this, she spent time with many of her husband's contributors -- Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Felix Vallotton and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who were all purportedly all in love with her.

She the married again to Alfred Edwards in 1905, but soon after he cheats on her and she starts having an affair with Catalan painter Jose Marie Sert. It was he who introduced her to Serge de Daghilev and she became committed to helping the impressario, resulting in her becoming the "godmother" of the Ballets Russes.

A poster of the temporary exhibition on Misia
One of her girlfriends at the time was the inimitable Coco Chanel, who called Misia "Madame Verdurinska" for being an arbiter of taste and fashion. The exhibition has several pictures of the two together at gatherings.

However things went downhill a few years after she married Sert in 1920. He takes a mistress, a Georgian sculptress named Isabelle Roussadana Mdivani known as Roussy, and even lives with the couple in the Hotel Meurice.

Misia divorces Sert in 1927 and he marries his mistress. It seems Misia never got over being abandoned by him and her health begins to decline, suffering from severe eye problems that leave her almost blind. She also starts getting addicted to morphine and eventually dies in 1950.

It's a sad end, but she did live quite an amazing life at the time. And her influence is forever immortalized in the artists who loved her.

Misia, Queen of Paris
June 12 to September 9
Musee d'Orsay
1, rue de la Legion-d'Honneur
75007 Paris
+33 (0) 1 40 49 48 00

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