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