Friday, 6 July 2012

Something Old, Something New

The glass pyramid at the Louvre
Ah Paris. Why has it taken so long for me to revisit you again?

The last time I was in the City of Lights was when the glass pyramid was being built at the Louvre in the mid 1980s.

It was definitely time for an update.

Venus de Milo
My first order of business was to go to the Louvre and see as much as I could -- my first visit was one of those family trips to Europe where you see several countries in 20 days on a bus.

That meant we spent about half an hour in the revered museum -- where we of course saw the Mona Lisa, the headless Winged Victory of Samothrace and perhaps the large paintings by Eugene Delacoix, such as Liberty Leading the People and Theodore Gericault's Raft of Medusa.

So this time I had no specific deadlines and hoped that I could see as much as possible without my eyes blurring over and overall I think I did a pretty good job.

However the layout of the Louvre can be confusing and at times I felt like I was in a maze and could not get out; sometimes back tracking was the only way to do this as some gallery sections were closed.

I arrived relatively early and since I came from the metro, I was able to buy an admission ticket from downstairs and walk in right away. So to beat the crowds outside -- well sort off -- I headed off to see La Jaconda or Mona Lisa.

The signs pointing to Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece were very clear and within minutes I was in the room with many other people crowding around this small painting behind bullet-proof glass.

Detail of Josephine and Napoleon with their Chaumet crowns
We were all craning our necks trying to take pictures of her, but it was useless since there was severe reflection from the glass. Nevertheless she still is smiling perhaps with a hint of mischievousness, pleased that no one can catch her true likeness.

On the same first floor, I also managed to see The Winged Victor of Samothrace again as well as Delacroix and Gericault's works as well as the massive painting called The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I by Jean-Louis David.

It's a dramatic and highly detailed work, portraying Napoleon starting a new kind of royalty. In it, the crowns were created especially for the French power couple by the French jewellery house Chaumet. That commission led the company to become the official jeweller to Napoleon and needless to say Chaumet continues to market its connection with the diminutive leader to this day. Pedigree is a selling point.

19th century Congolese sculpture of a bull
On the ground floor there's Aphrodite, or Venus de Milo, a lovely female torso that's sadly lost her arms. There's also a massive Egyptian section filled with the numerous coffins Egypt's kins were buried in. One wonders how they were transported way back when. There are also massive stone statues like Ramses II and the Code of Hammurabi, a giant black stone with laws carved into it for eternity.

I also saw the new wing dedicated to the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. My favourite piece was that of bull from the 19th century from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The simple lines and the beautiful wood makes it so simple, refreshing and modern.

And I was also pleased to see some pieces from Canada, including a pillar made of cedar from the Kwakiatul nation and a mask of a bird from the Tsimshian.

Up on the second floor there were many Dutch paintings, such as The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Jan van Eyck, but also an interesting comparison of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' works.

CY Twombly's The Ceiling adds modernity to antiquities
In 1808 he painted a large canvas of The Bather. But the same figure appears again in 1828 in another work called The Small Bather, Interior of the Harem, and then again in 1862 in another painting featuring other women called The Turkish Bath.

Some artists really do recycle their ideas.

It was interesting going up to Napoleon III's apartments up a flight of wooden stairs into a series of rooms oozing with opulence that was completely over the top. There were enormous chandeliers dripping with crystal pieces, lavish velvet couches furniture, doors lined with gold, and rich thick silk brocade curtains.

However amongst all this ostentatious furniture were curious pieces mixed in, such as Deux Bacchantes (Clockwise) in one of the hallways. It looked like two silver nymphs dancing together, but their faces and figures are warped as if they were stretched and twisted.

Two literally twisted figures by Wim Delvoye
They are the work of Wim Delvoye, a Belgian artist whose work seems to shock people, but here the pieces seemed to blend in too well into the background and I wondered if people noticed these works were new. Visitors pointed out his other pieces, fabric pigs, but did they notice these silver-coloured sculptures as not quite fitting in?

And then I noticed some other things that stood out.

One of them is a fantastic ceiling in one of the Greek antiquities room painted by CY Twombly who died last year. Called The Ceiling, it features a number of yellow and almost black spheres floating around a blue sky, with some ancient Greek writing. The work was painted on canvas and then mounted on the ceiling, perhaps one of his last few works as it was completed in 2009.

And then I found this painting very amusing. Done by Jean-Simeon Chardin in 1779, it shows a monkey dressed up holding a brush and sitting by a canvas with brush in hand. This one called The Monkey Painter perhaps made fun of other artists who paint their own self portraits in a similar setting.

The Monkey Painter by Jean-Simeon Chardin
So instead of looking at the usual masterpieces, it was fun to try to find things that looked different to bring a new perspective to an old school museum.


  1. Sounds like you had a great time in Paris! :)

    Re the Louvre: call me a traditionalist but my favorite works in that museum *are* the ones by Delacroix and Gericault. :)

  2. Yes I agree too, but it was interesting to find other works in there too that one would not expect to find in the Louvre, like CY Twombly and Wim Belvoye.