THATMuse

This is the third of a three-part series about the Grand Palais. (First the second part see here, and the first part see here.) Written and photographed by Daisy de Plume.

FROM BEES TO FOOD (and back to design)

The most recent addition to the Grand Palais is its fashionista restaurant, the Mini Palais. Opened in the fall of 2010, it has clean minimalist lines, and like its larger counterpart (the unsurpassable Nave of the Grand Palais), is fully flooded in light despite the grey of Paris winter skies. The outstanding setting is between the Nave and the Colonnade — between the Palace’s metal structure and its stone façade. Warmer seasons afford a fittingly magnificent setting on the balcony, with views of the Alexandre III Bridge.

Upon entering the restaurant, one passes massive bronze doors of the Alexandre III Rotunda. They don’t fail to impress, nor do the delicately restored mosaics lining the floor. Redesigned by architects Gilles & Boissier, their aim was to resemble an artist’s workshop, whilst revealing the mammoth metal structures painted in the Grand Palais’s trademark mignonette green.

Eric Frechon, the restaurant’s consultant chef who holds three Michelin stars, has come up with an innovative menu including Clafoutis aux Cepes de Correze, Escargots dans leur Tomate cerise gratins au beurre d’Amande and Pluma de Cochon au Tandoori, Confit d’Oignon, Pommes Paille. Open from noon to midnight (2 AM on weekends), the Mini-Palais continues to cause a stir across Paris.

Reservations (01 42 56 42 42) are strongly suggested, unless you’re stopping in for a scrumptious dessert between lunch and dinner. Entrance: Avenue Winston-Churchill, Pont Alexandre-III 75008 (entrance via the Alexandre III Rotunda). Metro: Champs-Elysees Clemenceau / valet parking service is also provided. 

As promised in the first of this 3-part series, here is a list of WOW Factor Facts:

  • The Grand Palais was built in just 3 years, from 1897 to 1900
  • Workforce on the construction site in 1900 at its peak: 1,500
  • The flag flown over the building measures 4 x 6 m
  • Facade perimeter: 1 km
  • Total metal weight for the entire Grand Palais: 8,500 metric tons
  • Weight of steel in the Nave: 6,000 metric tons
  • Weight of the “mignonette green” paint inside the Nave: 60 metric tons
  • Total stone weight: 200,000 metric tons
  • Working area: 72,000 m2
  • Nave floor space: 13 500 m2
  • Nave length: 200 m
  • Height: 45 m under the dome

What’s a-Buzz About the Grand Palais?

This is the second of a three-part series about the Grand Palais (for the first post, see here), a loose tip of the hat to Walter Benjamin. All photos in this series are taken by Daisy de Plume.

The Grand Palais is divided into three distinct areas: The Nave (which has currently been taken over by French artist Daniel Buren – the show’s running till 21 June 2012), the Galeries Nationales (“Animal Beauty” is the exhibition including works from Breughel to Jeff Koons, da Vinci to Matisse. This show is running till 16 July 2012 – 11 euro admission) and the Palais de la Découverte (Science Museum – Hair and Science is their current exhibition, till 26 August 2012 – 7 euro admission). A separate gallery, known as the “Southeast Gallery” has the first Helmut Newton retrospective in France since he died in 2004.

All of these tenants – and their exhibits – deserve articles unto themselves, of course. However, I haven’t exhausted the Grand Palais tenant list yet, which is what I aim to cover herewith. Some GP occupants don’t fit into the sparkling cultural cosmos of Paris in quite the same way.

For instance, who’s above and below? As is commonly the case in France, we have some unlikely bedmates. In the basement the police HQ of the 8th Arrondissement has what must be a sprawling spread. And then if we toddle all the way up to the roof (oh, say 45 meters / 147 feet up) the most unlikely guests pay the most delicious rent: Two queen bees have their hives up there, in the pure air above the Champs-Elysees. I run treasure hunts at the Louvre for an occupation, but I have to say these bees are far more interesting that the short-term renters like Breughel and Matisse, Koons and Newton.

In May 2009 a local beekeeper, Nicolas Géant, set up shop on both the roofs of the Grand Palais and Garnier’s Opera House, adding to a surprising Parisian reputation as an urban jungle. Floral honey, which is made from pollen and nectar taken from a 3-km perimeter – read the Champs-Elysees’ many small flowers, lime trees, chestnuts and lavendars, the tree-lined Seine, perhaps a jaunt over to Invalide – is aptly labeled “Grand Palais Honey”.

Since then, beehives have been set up on the roof of the ultra-modern Opera Bastille and in the Luxembourg Gardens, among other Parisian landmarks. “In Paris, each beehive produces a minimum of 50 to 60 kilograms (110 to 130 pounds) of honey per harvest, and the death rate of the colonies is 3 to 5 percent,” said Henri Clement, president of the National Union of French Beekeepers, “But in the countryside (where flowers have more pesticides), one beehive only gives you 10 to 20 kilograms (about 20 to 40 pounds) of honey, and the death rate is 30 to 40 percent. It is a sign of alarm.


I’ve posted other of these snaps on Pinterest (my name there, surprisingly, is THATLou).

This is the first part of a three-part series about the Grand Palais, in a loose tribute to Walter Benjamin.

With an iron, steel and glass barrel-vaulted roof running almost 240 meters (755 feet) long, Paris’s Grand Palais was the last of the large transparent structures inspired by London’s Crystal Palace. Necessary for large gatherings of people before the age of electricity fully took off, every major city seemed to have a Crystal Palace, caused of course by a Universal Exhibition to boost city coffers. New York built its Crystal Palace in 1853 where Bryant Park now sits (ironically the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue is the former site of the city’s reservoir – not enough water to put out the Crystal Palace’s 1856 fire, I guess). Hailed as a masterpiece, NY’s Crystal Palace had a dome 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter (and hosted the largest crocodile ever caught). 50 years of engineering strides allowed for a dome twice that size capping the Grand Palais (70 meters in diameter). To give a more tangible comparison of this spatially vast behemoth, Vanderbilt Hall’s ceiling in NY’s Grand Central Station is a dwarfing 40 feet (12 meters); The Grand Palais’s ceiling height is more than 100 feet taller – soaring up to 45 meters (147 feet). I’ll leave a laundry list of colossal figures in the 3rd part of this 3-part series, but suffice it to say: finally Swift’s adjective ‘Brobdingnag’ is applicable!

The main space was originally connected to the other parts of the palace along an east-west axis by a grand staircase in a style combining Classical and Art Nouveau, but the interior layout has since been somewhat modified. The architectural competition was fierce and controversial, and ultimately resulted in the contract being awarded to a group of four architects, Henri Deglane, Albert LouvetAlbert Thomas and Charles Girault, each with a separate area of responsibility. The builders tried to compensate for a drop in the water table and a shift to the ground by supporting posts down to firmer soil. These measures, however, were only partially successful.  Additional problems due to the construction of the building itself revealed themselves over the past century. Differential rates of expansion and contraction between cast iron and steel members, for example, allowed for water to enter, leading to corrosion and further weakening. When finally one of the glass ceiling panels fell in 1993, the main space had to be closed for restoration work (just a small sign, I guess). Renovation work continued for 14 years, finally the Grand Palais was reopened in 2007.

I’ve posted other of these snaps on Pinterest (my name there, surprisingly, is THATLou).

THATd’Or was commissioned by the AFMO. My original goal had been to make the hunt exclusively about trains + motion. What could be more suitable than to tip one’s treasure-hunt hat to the history of this gorgeous building? As I’m sure you all know, the Musée d’Orsay was originally a train station, built in only 2 years and unveiled on 14 July 1900 for the Exposition Universelle. Until 1939 the Gare d’Orsay covered the southwestern French lines (thereafter it served the suburbs as the length of the building (138 meters) was too short for the longer trains which appeared during the electrification of trains). During the war it was where prisoners’ mail was dispatched. And before Mitterand unveiled it as a museum in 1986, it was the temporary home to auctioneers (while Druout was being built) as well as being the set for Kafka’s The Trial, by Orson Welles (1962). It’s clearly had several lives, but the Musée d’Orsay celebrates its train station roots beautifully and seemlessly.

So I’m just putting the finishing touches on a new Public THATLou; “All Things Gaul, for those who have the Gall” shall debut on, yep, you guessed it: Bastille Day! The Louvre is free on 14 juillet, yet I’m banking on the fact that most people are going to be watching the military parade on the Champs-Elysées or over at Place de la Bastille, out and about in the sun. Not holed up in a dusty old museum. Moreover, I don’t think a lot of people realize the museum’s free, so it won’t be as crowded as the first Sunday of the month, when the crowds can get a bit suffocating.

It’s the first Public THATLou we’ll have since the Easter Hunt and the last till the 1 November Toussaint “Death Hunt”, so don’t miss your chance to win the glory of France, a tremendously valuable All things Gaul THATLou prize (got at the Louvre gift shop, so I guess “tremendously valuable” might be called by some a tourist trinket).  I’m pleased as punch that Mary Kay, of the wonderful blog Out and About in Paris, has signed her family up and will go on her second hunt.

taken from Mr Shellshear.wikispaces.com

As for designing the hunt, All Things Gaul has been more a process of elimination than anything, since the Louvre is of course abounding in French-related treasure. Though the hunt will theoretically get our clever hunters to all floors of all three wings of the museum, I’ve tried to make it easier to strategize in concentrated areas.

Description de l’Egypte, Etat Moderne, Plate 87, Views of Qait Bey Fortress and the Diamant Rock, drawn c.1798, pub in the Panckoucke edition of 1821-9 (wikipedia.com)

It was hard to discard some wings. I considered including Egyptian works, since the French were the first Europeans in Egypt with Napoléon’s 1798 Egyptian Campaign, when the cocky 29 year old general wanted to sever England’s India route (and supremacy over the Mediterranean) by attacking Egypt. The campaign was a failure (Nelson captured Nappy’s enormous fleet at the Battle of the Nile off of Alexandria at the bay of Aboukir (so why, I wonder, do the French have a long narrow street crossing the 2nd Arrt named Aboukir?). Nappy had to leave Egypt to his man Kléber (who was assassinated in Cairo by a Syrian student in 1800) in order to try to escape land-bound up toward Syria). However, it was a fascinating failure, because Napoléon brought 160 scholars, scientists, engineers, naturalists, artists, (including Denon, for whom one of the Louvre’s three wings is named) to scrutinize Egypt. Thanks to this Egyptology was born, and a 23-volume “Description of Egypt” was published from 1808 – 1829. The size alone of the Louvre’s Egyptian collection (2 floors of Sully, nearly half of the wing!) attests to their world-famous focus on Egyptology.

But I decided to exclude the Egyptians from All Things Gaul and sprinkle it nearly exclusively on pieces by Frenchmen or of Frenchmen. We have Kings and Leaders, lots of lovely (naked) ladies, a Sevres wine cooler, a bed (What’s more All things Gaul than wine, women and a bed?).

There are a few exceptions, the Mona Lisa being one. She may not be by a Frenchman (though da Vinci did work for a French king and did die in Amboise, as written about in the Leonardo’s Lover! post), but thanks to her absurd popularity she’s come to represent Paris or France just as much as the Eiffel Tower. When 60% of one’s market relies on tourism and 80% of 8 million visitors a year go to the Louvre just to see her (so sad) then I think it’s fair to put her in an All Things Gaul hunt.

The Raft of Medusa in the Louvre, by theplagiarists.com

Stay posted for the typical give away clue — and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Géricault Raft of Medusa bonus question which appeared for our recent hunt for an Int’l law firm appears within this All Things Gaul hunt as well!

Sandro Botticelli's Madonna del Magnificat
Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna del Magnificat 1481, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

The Madonna Enthroned with baby Jesus in her lap and various saints in attendance is by far the most common religious subject in art history. To take a break from the Louvre’s Christmas paintings, and to veer from the divine Early Netherlandish Annunciations, for Christmas we’re turning out attention to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence with three Madonna and Child treasures.

Pietro Perugino's Enthroned Madonna and Christ
Pietro Perugino’s Enthroned Madonna and Christ , 1493, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

Back when we were considering Leonardo’s Contemporaries we touched on three fellow students all of whom flourished in their own style and by their own means. Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Leonardo da Vinci were all four students at one point or another in Andrea del Verrocchio’s 15th Century Florentine studio.

Domenico Ghirlandaio's Madonna + Child
Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Madonna + Child enthroned with Saints, 1483, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

Just a quick thought on each of the three: That first Botticelli Madonna del Magnificat is actually the Piero de’ Medici family, pudgy Jesus’s hand on a pomegranate symbolising the Resurrection. Perugino, always a smooth operator, painted the same scene with a silky, serene stroke: Mary and Christ flanked by Saint John the Baptist (in hirsute) and St Sebastian (a fave subject of Perugino).  And essays (and probably books, too) have been written about Oriental Carpets in Renaissance painting, with that last Ghirlandaio being included in all of them, no doubt.

Without much more ado I shall let the paintings speak for themselves, and leave you without more text than to say:

Happy Christmas!

Bernardino Luini’s Adoration of the Magi, 1520-25, au Louvre (from Wikipedia)

Today is the eve of Epiphany, 6 January! A day of merrymaking, the 12th Day of Christmas has more than 12 drummers drumming (which apparently refers to the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s creed, within the Christmas carol)… It has Three Kings visiting baby Christ in Bethlehem; Melchior, Gaspar (sometimes known as Caspar) and Balthazar were the Magi or Three Wise Men representing Europe, Arabia and Africa. They arrived on horse, camel and elephant and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, respectively. Balthazar is one of my favourite names – in fact I used to be a regular at a Keith McNally resto in NY by the same name just as an excuse to enunciate it.

Different cultures give Three Kings Day different rituals. Argentina (and most other Spanish-speaking countries) on the eve of El Día de los Reyes has children polish their shoes and leave them outside their door filled with grass or hay, a bowl of water next to them. The morning of 6 Jan, the shoes are filled with gifts and the bowl’s empty (the camels having eaten the hay and drunk the water). Why shoes, I’m not sure (but why Christmas stockings for us? Must look it up). The French, true to their tummies, have a frangipane-filled Galettes des Rois (almond-paste filled cake that has a little figurine known as la fève (originally a broad bean, or fève). Whoever gets the slice of cake with the fève is king for the day. The president at the Elysée Palace has a Galette des Rois that’s more than a meter in diameter, but it’s without a fève, because it wouldn’t be very fitting to find a King in the presidential palace of the Republic, now would it? In the States Three Kings Day is when you’re supposed to exchange your gifts (though we’ve moved this forward to the Hallmark date of 25 Dec) and is also the day you take down your Christmas tree and decorations.

But we’re getting side tracked here – what is the single most important thing that’s happening in France for the 2013 Three Kings Day? No it’s not that meter-wide, feve-less gâteau at the Elysée, pshah! It’s the Kings + Leaders THATLou, of course! And what is this post devoted to, but one of the treasures that our hunters will be chasing after. Lucky are those that are reading these words, because otherwise they wouldn’t know that Bernardino Luini (1480/82 – 1532)’s fine Adoration of the Magi fresco (seen above) can be found in the Duchatel Room (seen below):

Duchatel Room, Denon, 1st Floor, Room 2 (taken from the Louvre Atlas database)

Not a lot is known about Luini, other than that he moved to Milano in 1500 from his small town near Lago Maggiore and that in Milano he was heavily influenced by Leonardo, with whom he worked. One of his signatures is graceful female figures with elongated eyes, which Vladimir Nabokov called “Luiniesque” in La Venezia (1924).

The Duchatel Room (found on the 1st floor of the Denon Wing, off of the Italian Gallery), has been the subject of a handful of interesting articles. The collection was left to the Louvre together, and included the Fra Angelico crucifixion (seen in the photo) as well as two Ingres.

The hunters will get a bit more about the Luini Adoration of the Magi tomorrow (a painting which would also be suitable for a Structure + Space THATLou, so organised is the architecture in the quiet scene). Though not half so well known as Georges de La Tour’s Adoration of the Shepherds. I think it’s twice as attractive!

THE American Expat Painter

Yes, I guess that title and caps-lock implies just how very much I like John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). He’s probably my favorite American painter*, expat or otherwise.

A Street in Venice, 1880
A Street in Venice, 1880, Clark Art Institute, Mass

I’m happy to say a second THATd’Or is imminently descending upon the coffered halls of the Musée d’Orsay! Kristina Tencic, the AFMO’s Communications Liaison, and I are co-hosting another treasure hunt. This time it’s private and for an exclusive group of expat Americans who’ve been in France for a long time. Who at the Musée d’Orsay could represent such a group better than John Singer Sargent?

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, MFA, Boston

And so it is with this in mind that I shall let my fingers flutter and see our subject cross the channel and the pond (although to be fair, John Singer Sargent (JSS) didn’t make it to the States till he was 20 years old, when he established citizenship). Both his parents were American, his father was a Dr in Philadelphia; 2 years prior to John’s birth his older sister died. This caused his mother, Mary Singer, to breakdown, and as a result his parents set sail for Europe, never returning. JSS was born in Florence, though he was raised with seasonal visits across Europe. If you’re born and raised “abroad” are you an expat – or is it simply “abroad” for your parents? For that matter, if you grow up on the road are you an expat?

Wyndam Sisters
Wyndam Sisters, 1899, Met, NYC

Putting questions of Sargent’s identity aside, he was without a doubt a great painter whose portraits created an enduring image of society of the Edwardian age, often focusing on ladies in their brocaded satin gowns. Though he studied in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and under the fashionable society portraitist Carolus-Duran, the heavy spell of JSS’s idol, Velazquez, is apparent in most of his works. The haunting interior of The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882, at Boston’s MFA) has distilled light and delicately adjusted forms which pays tribute to Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Northern masters to influence Sargent were Frans Hals, with his quick stroke and light touch, and of course Anthony Van Dyck with his rich textures and fabrics.

El Jaleo, 1882, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Boston

Sargent’s best known work, and certainly his own favorite was the portrait of Madame X, the famous Parisian beauty. A fellow American expat, Madame Pierre Gautreau was a Louisiana Belle married to a Parisian banker. Sargent did a gazillion studies of her, spending a good amount of time at her country house in Brittany trying to get his studies right. A nervous and, I get the idea, self-important woman, Madame Gautreau never sat for long, but Sargent was the only portraitist of many who’d been granted the permission to paint her – no doubt due in part to being a compatriot – and he was dead-bent on capturing her marvelously.

Madame X, 1884 The Met
Madame X, 1884, The Met, NYC

When he finally did capture her, Sargent entered Madame X‘s soignée portrait in the Salon of 1884 and much to his despair was totally panned. Critics dismissed it as near pornography, complaining of the revealing décolleté black dress, all that skin and her provocative pose. One of the straps of her dress in the first version was off her shoulder! Scandalous! Discouraged by his Parisian failure he fled to London, welcomed by his good friend Henry James. London became his permanent home, but Sargent had many a client in the States, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and perhaps most importantly Isabella Stewart Gardner (who was one of his most loyal and forceful patrons).

Lingering on a light summary of Sargent’s life has been fun, but what to say of THATd’Or? Why have you been reading this? You must want some reward, other than the pleasant visit of seeing his quick and talented stroke, no? Well here’s the give-away: a second prize will go to the team who writes the best limerick which includes elements of the story of John Singer Sargent’s Carmencita, which our hunters will be seeking out at the Musée d’Orsay on Thursday night.

Carmencita, 1890
Carmencita, 1890, Musée d’Orsay

* Although Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860) is pretty damned good as well!

This Annunciation is by Carlo Braccesco, a Renaissance painter from Liguria active from 1478 to 1501. Doesn’t it look like Mary’s dodging a pigeon?

Annunciation - Carlo Braccesco
Annunciation – Carlo Braccesco, 16th C, Denon, 1st fl Grande Galerie Salle 5

The Annunciation is one of the most popular subjects in religious art. The story comes from Luke — Archangel Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary out of the nowhere  (almost invariably he enters her bedchamber from a courtyard, although soon I’ll write about a great Annunciation at the National Gallery in DC by Jan van Eyck which has Gabriel visiting her in a church/temple) to announce to her that despite having lost out on not getting any she’s going to have to go through the fun of being preggers for 9 months. Then she’ll give birth to the son of God, which he suggests (strongly, sometimes) she name Jesus, which means “Saviour”.Logically the Annunciation takes place nine months prior to Christmas on 25 March (and according to Wikipedia the English celebrate it, which I find interesting as I think of the English as largely Protestant, so they technically shouldn’t believe in saints and miracles, but perhaps they’re just Protestants for the sake of Henry VIII replacing his wives?).

Anyway, in art the Annunciation generally has a few of the following symbolic elements: The Lilly (the Virgin’s purity**), a ray of laser-like light from a window (indicates God’s imminent incarnation), a blown out candle (symbolic of God’s divinity, about to be extinguished, a further reference to the Incarnation – the moment when God became man), a dove (flying towards Mary’s ear — which is where conception took place. No laughing, please), flowers in a vase (the “Golden Legend” took place in Nazareth, which means Flower, but also points out to when it took place, the springtime). And for some reason usually Mary’s reading when Gabriel interrupts/surprises/visits her.

I will save my favourite Louvre Annunciation for tomorrow — for now I’ll leave you with some Louvre second-rate ones (when compared to my beloved Annunciation by Rogier van der Weyden).

Bernardo Daddi
Annunciation – Bernardo Daddi, 1335 Florence

Sometimes Mary and Gabriel are on the same footing, and it’s just an idle conversation you may see between neighbours in their respective backyards, through an open gate or over a fence.

Annunciation – Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) St Maria Novella d’Arezzo
Annunciation – Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) St Maria Novella d’Arezzo

Or you can see the Virgin as Vasari did, as a Yogi levitating. We have Vasari to thank for having Art History, insofar as his The Lives was the first book about his contemporary Renaissance painters. He was great in many ways (including giving us the smut! As THATMuse passed along when pondering Leonardo’s Lover), but actually painting was not one of Vasari’s strong-suits. He should have kept to writing as this Annunciation reflects.

Annunciation – Giulio Cesare Procaccini, 1620, Milano
Annunciation – Giulio Cesare Procaccini, 1620, Milano

Or then you have Procaccini’s Annunciation where it looks like Gabriel’s about to snap his wrist across Mary’s face

“You WILL call him Jesus”

“Cummmon, Man! I want to name him Graydon!”


Tomorrow you’ll get the good stuff – the Annunciation from some Northerners. Just a quick PS, though, Gabriel bringing Mary the lilies started appearing in Florentine Annunciations in the 14th century. The fleurs-de-lis (flower of lilies) was the heraldic symbol of Florence. Rivaling Siena, whose painters had their own school of thought on the matter, had Gabriel bring the Virgin an olive branch, which symbolised their own fine city. Gotta love the propaganda!

Jan Davidsz de HEEM, A Table of Desserts, 1640, at the Louvre, taken from Wikimedia Commons

A TABLE OF DESSERTS

Jan Davidsz de HEEM (Utrecht 1606 – Antwerp 1684)

17th Century, Flemish

JD de Heem was one of the rare Dutch Vanitas masters to capture some of the exuberance of the Flemish baroque. No surprise, as he spent his life ping-ponging between Protestant Utrecht and Catholic Antwerp throughout the ravages of the 30 Years War. The vanitas genre lectured a moral message, for instance some of the fruit here evokes Christian symbolism: Cherries are a fruit of paradise, peaches and apples embody the forbidden fruit, grapes represent redemption, and bread and wine are of course a clear reference to the Eucharist, the bod and blood of Christ. The lute and recorder recall the pleasure of the senses and the globe at top right corner recall the universe.

Louis XIV, whose army ravaged the Netherlands in 1672 (again causing de Heem to head back to Holland), bought this painting for Versailles. Much later Matisse copied it twice – nearly replicating it in an unremarkable art-school copy in 1893, and then nearly 20 years later in 1915 when Matisse was painting during another World War.

Foodies in France, this is just one piece which is a fine candidate for a Food + Wine THATLou. It can be tricky to find (in room 26!) since the 2nd floor Richelieu is interrupted between the Netherlands and Flemish sections via a lovely set of double-barreled stairs (called “Lefuel”), where there are some impish Snyders monkeys stealing fruit). The above de Heem text is taken directly from the hunt, but with one thing missing — something obvious from the below article will be an embedded bonus question… But what? Better read carefully, because as you know there’s no internet during the treasure hunt!

There’s so much to touch on with this one painting alone, throw Matisse in there and it doubles the anti! The 30 Years War (1618 – 1648) and the Peace of Westphalia, Louis XIV and his army, Versailles and the Sun King’s art patronage, de Heem and the vanitas genre… Where to start, what to look at? We can’t do it all, let’s take the most recent – as we rarely have an excuse to discuss modern painters (the Louvre’s collection ends where the Musée d’Orsay – why not toddle across the Seine for a THATd’Or ? – picks up after the mid 19th C.)

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) did his art-student copy of de Heem’s Table of Desserts at the age of 24 in 1893. That version is really just a replica that any art student could have made with a dim attempt for precise mimicry and little talent to show for it. However, it was important enough to catch his eye later. According to the curators of the MoMA in New York, at the start of the Great War in 1914 the French military requisitioned Matisse’s house in the Paris suburbs of Issy-les-Moulineaux. The following year when Matisse was allowed back in his home he happened across this school version of de Heem’s sumptuous still life and decided to make another copy.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Art Institute of Chicago co-curated a Matisse exhibition in 2010 called “Radical Invention 1913 – 1917” which covered a period in the artist’s life when Matisse didn’t seem to follow any one style, instead jumping from one technique to another, one model to another, one house to another. This, I suppose makes sense, as there was a World War going on after all.

Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, 1915 by Matisse, at the MoMA, from http://www.moma.org

That said Matisse’s own style(s) had come through by 1915 and in his Variation on a Still Life by de Heem (as he called this second version) he pulls from a cubist base and makes de Heem’s Table of Desserts his own. He called what he was doing the “Methods of Modern Construction” looking at old masters and constructing them in his modern context, peeing on the painting so to elegantly speak with vibrant colours and various techniques, yet retaining the composition so to still pay tribute to its provenance.

In a short podcast concerning Matisse’s inspiration, Stephanie d’Alessandro, a co-curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, described Matisse’s approach in his Variation on a Still Life by de Heem a “buffet of techniques”. Apt, for a period of so many (destructive) distractions.


MoMA co-curator John Elderfield and Michael Duffy also speak of the various Table of Desserts. Matisse’s art-school version is in the Musée Matisse‘s collection in Nice Cimiez’s Villa Arènes. Finding an image of this 1893 version was no easy feat – yet another reference to its obscurity.

As promised in the last post regarding The Art Newspaper (with a slight interruption discussing the distracting former director of the Met, Philippe de Montebello), below are the top 15 of a list of 100 museums that comprise the world’s most visited museums list for 2011.

So if the Louvre has nearly 9 million visitors a year that comes to approximately 30,000 visitors a day (it’s closed on Tuesdays and bank holidays). According to a Carol Vogel profile in the NY Times on Henri Loyrette the Louvre’s attendance was up 67% during Loyrette’s tenure (which started in 2001, after 18 years as the head of the Musée d’Orsay) until 2009 when the profile was published.

In this article Loyrette’s quoted as saying that 80% of the attendees only go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. This point alone is good cause to have started THATLou, don’t you think? To try to get the people off the beaten track… That poor marble floor should be as deep as the English trenches with approximately 7.2 million people tromping along, blinders on, with eyes only for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre has signs all over the place with tattered photocopies of da Vinci’s painting, I guess for those who don’t even know what it’s called?

Last spring I met one of the heads of the American Friends of the Louvre (AFL) who used to work at the Louvre. She told me that one morning when entering the museum at about 9.30 AM from the Porte des Lions  entrance (along the Seine, at the western end of Denon) there were already people leaving the museum! Which, given the size of the endless Italian Galeries (which Denon houses), means they didn’t even really bother to look at their checked-off-been-there-done-that Mona Lisa! No matter how swiftly they were walking — it takes a good while to get from the main entrance to the Porte des Lions exit at the farthest southwest sortie (as seen below).

Porte des Lions – SouthWestern wing of the Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco


Porte des Lions – SouthWestern wing of the Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco and published in http://www.ChezLoulou.blogspot.com

Anyway, back to our generalised stats… If you’re interested in the top-rated exhibitions of 2011, please see this hyperlink to The Art Newspaper’s April issue. It’s quite interesting, but be warned if you’re reading this on a phone it’s a heavy PDF. As for the promised top 15 museum attendence records for 2011, they’re listed below. At one point I may expand on this list and start to mark physical sizes of some museums. I believe the largest museum physically is the Hermitage, then probably the Louvre with its 65,000m². But these are just me guessing. I’ll also hopefully hone in on some museum expansions, for instance of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo and his tasteful addition to the Museo del Prado in 2007.

RankMuseumCityCountryVisitor count 
1Musée du LouvreParisFrance8,880,000 
2Metropolitan Museum of ArtNew YorkUnited States6,004,254 
3British MuseumLondonUnited Kingdom5,848,534 
4National GalleryLondonUnited Kingdom5,253,216 
5Tate ModernLondonUnited Kingdom4,802,287 
6National Gallery of ArtWashingtonUnited States4,392,252 
7National Palace MuseumTaipeiTaiwan3,849,577 
8Centre PompidouParisFrance3,613,076 
9National Museum of KoreaSeoulSouth Korea3,239,549 
10Musée d’OrsayParisFrance3,154,000 
11Museo del PradoMadridSpain2,911,767 
12State Hermitage MuseumSaint PetersburgRussia2,879,686 
13Museum of Modern ArtNew YorkUnited States2,814,746 
14Victoria & Albert MuseumLondonUnited Kingdom2,789,400 
15Museo Reina SofíaMadridSpain2,705,529 

And for all those crazy-stats-addicts among you, here’s another: Apparently there are more than 2000 people who work at the Louvre. The size of a small town! A special thanks to Jennifer Greco for her incredible eye, crafty camera-work and lovely blog, Chez Loulou, where she posted these photos with a generous THATMuse plug.

So who painted this now famous Prado-owned La Gioconda? Fueled with personalities and possibly sordid details, it’s a fun question to examine.

da Vinci’s Helicopter drawing, taken from Wikipedia

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is too large a topic to address for one post. But I’m happy to draw a rough sketch. Though I much prefer the paintings of many of his contemporaries (Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Botticelli all preferable marks, who also apprenticed in Verrocchio’s studio with da Vinci), it can’t be overlooked that the man was a genius. He conceptualized a helicopter in the 16th century, that’s just cool. And Pope Leo X commissioned him to make a mechanical lion that moved forward and whose chest opened to reveal lilies – this as a gift for Leonardo’s last patron, the King of France, François Ier. Leonardo was the bastard son of an aristocratic Notary father and peasant mother, and grew up in Vinci (thus his last name), near Florence. (and is buried in the Chateau d’Amboise, thanks to François Ier)

But this story isn’t about Leonardo – exactly. It’s about whoever it was who stood next to Leonardo and painted the Prado’s La Giaconda as he, Leo, was painting the Louvre’s most famous icon, the Mona Lisa. But to fill in some da Vinci background — as well as to keep your interest because it is, after all, juicy – I feel it necessary to mention that Leonardo’s name was sullied through court records in 1476; At 24 years old, he and three other young men were charged with sodomy with a well-known male prostitute. Lucky for da Vinci, one of the three companions was Lionardo de Tornabuoni — a relative of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who no doubt weighed in his influence on the court to drop the charges. So as of 24 years aged, Leonardo’s sexuality and the sexuality (and sometimes lack thereof) in his art were subjects of interest.

Andrea Salai, one of Leonardo’s two favorite pupils, is believed to be the model for Leonardo’s St John the Baptist (now at the Louvre). This eroticism as well as Leonardo’s Bacchus (another of Salai) give rise to scuttle that they were lovers. Other more erotic drawings reinforce the rumor which has been bouncing around since Giorgio Vasari (the mid-16th Century art historian and author of The Lives – a man who first put down the word ‘Renaissance’ as a description of the era) described Salai of being “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted”. Salai’s nickname “Little Satan” was indicative of his deportment: He started out as a servant / apprentice in Leonardo’s employ at the age of 10 and within the first year was caught five times thieving, lying and cheating. But Leonardo was indulgent — to the point, 30 odd years later, of leaving Salai half of his vineyards as well as some of his paintings. This Last Will and Testament raises an interesting point, to be returned to.

Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, 1513-1516, at the Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Another of Leonardo’s life-long pupil / companions was Francesco Melzi, who was the son of a nobleman and “apprenticed” under Leonardo till the latter’s death in Amboise. In fact Melzi was so close it was he who informed Leonardo’s family of his death (one does wonder if Salai would have known how to write, though it’s clear he was capable with the brush).

Head conservator at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Bruno Mottin, believes that the most likely painter of the Prado La Gioconda was one of these two students, Leonardo’s favourite pupils. If the Prado replica is eventually attributed to Melzi, it suggests a late date for the original, because Melzi joined Leonardo in 1506.

On the other hand if it’s the hand of Salai, then it’s unlikely that Salai ever inherited the original, as was previously assumed. This would mean the Louvre would have to re-examine the world’s most famous painting’s early history! A tremendous upset for the behemoth of museums – since they don’t even want to have it cleaned for fear of anything going awry (despite her looking twice her age due to the cracks in the painting – just look at the difference between the Prado’s version versus the Louvre’s in the last post).

There are a handful of articles pointing to the Prado’s La Gioconda as being at the hand of Andrea Salai, but nothing’s confirmed. One does have to appreciate this re-discovery was only made a bit over 6 months ago. As the life of either of these paintings is over 500 years I think we can cut the conservationists a bit of slack.

Next post shall wrap this story up with in two subjects – show some dazzling paintings by Leonardo’s contemporaries (listed above) and at least touch on Andrea Salai, whose real name was Gian Giacomo Caprotti, as a third-rate painter (opposed to lingering only on Salai’s salacious existence). Although ‘third-rate’ — who knows, this Prado discovery may just change history’s opinion of Leonardo’s reputed lover!