March 28, 2007

Parisian Peregrinations

The Rooftops of Paris from My Window, Early in the Morning

One thing has become very clear to me after the last two weeks in Paris - there is a reason why the song is titled "APRIL in Paris" and not "MARCH in Paris"! But no matter what the weather, Paris is always wonderful!

There is a lot to see and do in Paris this Spring. I've already reported on the "Salon du Dessin", but that is just one of the events going on this month. This week, the exhibition "Nouveau Réalisme" opened at the Grand Palais. It is a retrospective of the short-lived but influential "New Realist" movement that was the forerunner of Pop Art. Probably the most famous artist to come out of the movement is Christo, but other notables include Arman, Hains, de Saint Phalle, Spoerri, Tinguely and Villeglé. These are not household names in the US, but their work is important in the understanding of 20th Century art.

Other exhibitions I visited include "René Lalique: Bijoux d'exception 1890-1912" on view at the Musée de Luxembourg through July 29. Known worldwide for his frosted glass vases and objects, Lalique actually began his career as a creator of fine jewels. Working primarily in gold with diamonds, enamel, opals, emeralds and glass, Lalique reinterpreted nature with an Art Nouveau flair. A close look at Lalique's exquisitely wrought brooches, pendants, collars and necklaces reveals Symbolist masterpieces with snakes, dragonflies, swans and orchids turned into objects of great mystery and elegance. Lalique was obsessed with beauty and women and used the medium of his jewelry to explore the contrast of virginal beauty versus the "femme fatale", the female peacock versus the snake charmer.

Also opening this week is the annual "Art Paris '07" a modern and contemporary art fair held at the Grand Palais. This fair is big, but with the emphasis on contemporary art rather than more classical modern, it can be walked through rather quickly. For me, the main attraction of this art fair is the access to the main pavilion of the Grand Palais, literally "Large Palace", a building that was completed in 1889 in time for the Universal Exhibition. The interior is like an enormous solarium or greenhouse, with millions of glass panels supported by curving Art Nouveau style ironworks forming the roof. It was re-opened as an exhibition hall in 2006 after years of restoration and the results are magnificent. Really, they could show farm equipment in this space and it would look beautiful!

My favorite current exhibition is a masterpiece of beauty and elegance "John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla - Painters of Light" at the Petit Palais. Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Venice to wealthy American parents and had a very privileged upbringing. Sorolla (1863-1923) was born in Valencia in more modest circumstances and was orphaned at a very young age. Both were extremely successful as painters in their lifetimes and both used light in unique and powerful ways in their work. This exhibition contrasts their portraiture and landscape paintings throughout their remarkable careers and is a truly uplifting experience for the visitor. Sargent is noted for his stunning formal portraits of the aristocracy while Sorolla imbues his sitters, even in formal settings, with an impressionistic but emotionally revealing expression. No photograph can do these works justice. One must really see them in person and let their luminosity and intensity envelope and astound you. It was a wonderful experience!

To celebrate a Sunday when the sun actually came out, we made an excursion to Fontainebleau, the fabulous castle and grounds built in the 12th Century and occupied by every crowned head of France through the Napoleons! Maintained and restored by the French Government, this historic site is rare in its completeness and fine condition. There is a lot to see here from the State Apartments and Chapel, to the beautiful gardens designed by Le Notre and the "real" tennis court on the grounds.

In between all of this museum going and art fair visiting, I have managed some shopping for prints and will be posting some lovely pieces on my website very soon! I invite you to visit and see what's new.

Finally, it is time to go home. Despite the cold and rain Paris is always Paris and continues to charm. It has been a wonderful stay and I certainly look forward to the next visit, but New York is bursting into Spring and with that comes new adventures and discoveries. I bid you au revoir and hope you will check back again soon.

March 23, 2007

Odilon Redon :: As In a Dream

It's a rainy day in Frankfurt, but our time is limited so we hopped on the U-Bahn to Römer Platz to visit the Schirn Kunsthalle's current exhibition "Odilon Redon :: Wie im Traum". What a wonderful way to spend a gray afternoon! The magical, mystical world of Odilon Redon is revealed to the museum visitor with this outstanding selection of over 200 prints, drawings, pastels and oil paintings. Covering his entire œuvre from the "Noirs (Blacks)" period through Symbolism to his more colorful floral bouquets, the complex world of this not-so-well-known artist is made far more accessible, and his influence on the yet-to-be founded Surrealist Movement is made very clear.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was born in Bordeaux, France, and spent a solitary youth with music and nature as his main companions, and later influences on his work. Redon's art is not purely decorative or descriptive, rather, it is intended to inspire as many associations as possible - to depict the uncertain as it is revealed in dreams. The study of dreams and free association was fashionable among scientists and artists at the time, and Redon was a strong proponent of artistic imagination as inspired by these inspirations. To quote Redon, "My drawings inspire and do not define themselves. They determine nothing. They place us just as music does in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate".

And where does that leave us, the viewer? With a glorious collection of esoteric and mysterious images that capture the imagination. From the early works done in black charcoal or black lithography like "Eye Balloon", 1878, "The Crying Spider", 1881, "The Laughing Spider", 1881", or his suites of prints (the complete set of his graphic works is on display in this exhibition), Redon does not seek to horrify or disturb, rather to present a magical and alternative view of objects that we are already familiar with.

As his career progressed, he sought to make the connection between mythology and religion, believing that "Life and history can be portrayed through natural phenomena". Suddenly, in the early 1900's, his works became imbued with color - "The Dream", 1904, "Underwater Vision", 1910, "Butterflies", 1910 and "Bouquet in a Persian Vase", c. 1910 - mark this transition. Though he never abandons the theme of nature, he expands his vision to incorporate more mythological beings. The final room in the exhibition reproduces the murals he created for Fontfroide, a Cistercian Abbey in France. His interpretations of "Day", "Night" and "Silence" are the culmination of a life devoted not just to creating things of beauty, but a world that exists beyond our every day confines.

Redon may never become a household name, but it is the object of exhibitions such as this to bring some well deserved attention to this creative genius who lived "as in a dream".

March 22, 2007

Meanwhile, Back in Paris...The Drawings Fair

The annual Salon du Dessin opened on Tuesday in the venerated Palais de la Bourse, the former home of the French Stock Exchange now transformed into a premier venue for meetings and shows. This historic and beautiful building is an appropriate location for such an assembly of choice European and American drawings dealers. Spanning the ages from Old Master to Modern, these 29 specialists filled their booths with prime examples for collectors of fine drawings.

From Tiepolo pen and ink studies, to Picasso pencil sketches, all presented in an elegant, intimate setting, the visitor was invited to study and enjoy a wide variety of superb offerings. I found many lovely pieces like an exquisite pencil drawing with watercolor by Gustav Klimt on the stand of Jean Luc Baroni, London. Executed in 1917, it is a portrait of a woman, done in pencil, wearing a colorful scarf around her neck, done in watercolor. Or the marvelous black pencil study "Deux chats dans l'atelier de l'artiste (Two Cats in the Artist's Studio)", 1922, by Theophile Steinlen, on the stand of Martin Moeller Kunsthandel, Hamburg. There was an amusing watercolor of two penguins by Jacques Cartier that was sold in the first 30 minutes of the fair! There was also a beautiful pencil portrait of Paul Helleu's wife "Madame Helleu au tricot (Madame Helleu Knitting)" at Talabardon & Gautier, Paris. Helleu's depictions of his beloved Alice are his most touching works, imbued with a tenderness that exists only between people who love each other. This drawing, capturing her in a quiet moment of concentration, has exactly that quality.

My very favorite piece at the 2007 Salon du Dessin was by Eugene Lami (1800-1890) at the booth of Didier Aaron & Cie, Paris. It was a very large watercolor of the terraces of the Grand Trianon at Versailles, in almost lifelike detail. Executed in 1867, but in the style of the 18th Century, this fully finished painting depicts a royal outing on a lovely summer day. In the center is the king's carriage pulled by magnificent white horses. It is surrounded by uniformed officers on their steeds, lovely ladies being wooed in rowboats on the canal, sumptuous picnics being consumed on the lawn and general merrymaking overall. Formerly a part of the de Rothschild collection, this watercolor is now offered at the princely sum of 90,000 Euros.

Once again, the Salon du Dessin has succeeded in presenting the visitor with a wide variety of fine drawings of the very highest quality. It is not the "Art Carnival" atmosphere of Art Basel, or TEFAF. It is more an understated invitation to enjoy some precious objects in a dignified setting. Rather a rare treat in this hyperactive world!

March 15, 2007

Maastricht Madness!

Once again it is time for the greatest art and antiques event in Europe as 220 dealers from around the world gather in Maastricht, Holland, for the 20th edition of The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF as it is affectionately referred to. This 10 day orgy of antiques and fine art attracts over 80,000 visitors at the (now) rather steep admission price of 55 Euro apiece. No one leaves the fair disappointed, though. There is something from every era, every culture, every aesthetic, although not for every price range. But those who can, buy, and those who cannot buy, derive almost the same pleasure from the sheer joy of discovering and seeing the finest and most extraordinary objects one can imagine.

Let me give you a few examples from this year's "Greatest Hits" list!

The London paintings dealer Dickenson has as his booth's centerpiece a pair of paintings by Giovanni Paolo Panini entitled "A Concert" and "A Ball". They were commissioned in 1751 to commemorate the celebrations given by the Duc du Nivernais, in his Roman Palace, Farnese, to mark the birth of the Duc de Bourgogne, the eldest son of the Dauphin of France. These 2 enormous paintings are sumptuous indeed and depict in great detail, the gathering of crowned heads to honor the heir to the throne. They are offered at an appropriately regal price of £5,000,000 each, to be sold only as a pair.

Smaller in volume, but probably not in price, is the stunning 50.01 carat emerald cut flawless white diamond on display at Graff. Cut, but not set, this magnificent jewel is clearly in the "if you have to ask..." category.

More modest, but equally fascinating, is a mahogany and glass display case containing a diorama of over 60 exotic birds mounted by the taxidermist Charles Yeoman in 1895. This unique piece is on view at Mallett of New Bond Street London and can be yours for a mere 42,000 Euro. Or a marvelous collection of 150 botanical models of fruit, mainly apples but also pears, pomegranates and figs, at the stand of Piva & C, Milano. These beautifully detailed specimens were made from wax and chalk by Francesco Valletti in the 1850's and their exquisite coloration makes them so lifelike, one could almost take a bite! Or the display of antique iron locks and safe boxes at the booth of Allesandro Cesati, Milano. In this setting, what was once purely utilitarian becomes as decorative as the finest jewelry.

I could go on and on. The historical portraits at Weiss, the Dutch primitive paintings as De Jonckheere, the scientific instruments at Trevor Philip & Sons, the Art Deco furniture at Philippe Denys, the hand painted wallpapers at Carolle Thibuat-Pomerantz, the Delft porcelain at Aronson Antiquairs...

TEFAF began as a small art fair primarily for Old Master paintings and antiques dealers. It has expanded into THE art event of the year and now incorporates a very strong contingent of modern art as well. One hopes that they will remain true to their roots and maintain as their focus the treasures of centuries ago and not wander down the path of the Basel Art Fair with its go-go buying frenzy atmosphere. The European Fine Art Fair maintains its mystique, its elegance, its thrill, by virtually guaranteeing the visitor a jaw-dropping selection of fabulous things - all for a certain price! And, oh, those tulips!

March 09, 2007

"Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudí to Dalí"

In the years between the Universal Exhibition of 1888 and the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, the city of Barcelona, in fact the entire region of Catalunya, was a thriving center of creativity in the arts. Often overlooked in the broader spectrum of Modern European Art, the spirit of "Modernisme" asserted itself in the visual and decorative arts in the outstanding contributions made by some world famous Catalan names, like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, and by more obscure but also first rate artists whom we come to discover here. From now until June 3, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents "Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudí to Dalí" an exhibition that will open the visitor's eyes to the creative wealth originating from this coastal region of Eastern Spain.

Beginning with "Renaixença", the Catalan Renaissance, where industry thrived and with it a demand for art and luxury goods. Local artists like Ramon Casas (1866-1932) and Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) studied the art being created in centers such as Paris, Brussels and Vienna, and made it uniquely their own. By the end of the 1800's, a young man named Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) came on the scene and his impact, of course, is universal and legendary. The founding of "El Quatre Gats (The Four Cats, or, Just a Few Guys, in Catalan slang)" provided the Barcelona equivalent of the artists' cafés of Montmartre, and the venue for Picasso's first solo show in 1900.

The exhibition goes on to showcase the contributions made by Catalan artists in the fields of design and the decorative arts. Most prominent among these is Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), whose name is synonymous with Barcelona and its unique architecture. But he was also a fabulous furniture designer and his work is represented with several outstanding pieces. Also on display are wonderful tiles, jewelry, textiles, architectural models, and more furniture by lesser known but also important designers of the time.

Passing through "Noucentisme" or "Nineteen-hundreds Style" to the Avant Garde and Surrealism we are again presented works by world famous artists who hail from the region. Joan Miró's "The Farm", 1921, and "Woman Strolling on the Rambla in Barcelona", 1925, hangs with his compatriot Salvador Dalí's "The Dream", 1931, and works by Francis Picabia and Joachim Torres-Garcia. What I found really interesting was how much each influenced the other. No one worked in a vacuum and even a total original like Dalí clearly derived inspiration from local celebrities like Gaudí.

The party came to an end with Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War. Artists' reactions to the events are reflected in Dalí's "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans", 1936, and several sketches by Picasso for his masterpiece "Guernica". By 1939, the rest of Europe was erupting into World War 2, and the era of prosperity and creativity was definitely over. But what a legacy remains! The visitor to this exhibition will be amazed at the wealth of art and design that is clearly, uniquely and specifically the pride of Barcelona.

March 02, 2007

Works on Paper 2007

After a torrential rainstorm in the morning, the clouds parted, the sun came out, the puddles started to dry and we could walk through Central Park to the Seventh Regiment Armory to visit the 19th Annual Works on Paper show.
This is always a fun art fair as it offers a variety of mediums, styles and price ranges with the common thread being every work, whether a drawing, photograph, print or watercolor, must be on paper. The 77 galleries participating in this year's event come from France, Great Britain, Canada and across the United States, and specialize in everything from old master drawings to vintage posters to contemporary photography.

I especially enjoyed the stand of Marion Meyer with her Homage to Man Ray and the prominently hung lithograph "A L'heure de l'observatoire - Les amoureux (The Lovers)". Also Sigrid Freundorfer Fine Art's presentation of the watercolors of Scott Kelley with his magnificent "Rocks from Antarctica" as a centerpiece. Finally, the exquisite taste of Monsieur and Madame Candellier, Galerie André Candellier, Paris, was reflected in their superb collection of etchings by Jacques Villon, Toulouse Lautrec and Paul Helleu.

Truly, there is something for everyone and I encourage you to visit the fair and see these paper treasures for yourself!!