In the past couple of weeks I have seen many of the major art museums in this great city, including the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Picasso Museum, the Rodin Museum, and the Matisse exhibit at the Senat, all of them with Renee.
The Louvre is a very big place. Renee and I were in there for close to five hours, which is probably a personal attention span record. I’m usually a very fast-paced museum goer. We saw a lot of old stuff — obviously the big three (Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa in her new special display room, plus Antonio Canova’s Cupid and Psyche, ancient Egyptian artifacts, ancient frescoes, ancient mosaics, ancient statuary, ancient Napoleonic apartments, lots of other ancient stuff, and one of my personal favorites, the French Crown Jewels. I last saw them in July 1995 when I was doing the youth hostel / backpack thing for six weeks with my cousin, Mario. We came across them by fortuitous accident; but this time I sought them out deliberately. I think the British have done a much better job of displaying their Crown Jewels with people movers that get people in and out in an orderly fashion and give everyone an equal chance to see. At both the Crown Jewels and the Mona Lisa people form rings around the object and it’s not clear when it’s your turn or why the person behind you is pushing. I wish I had been able to see some of the goodies better. And I certainly need to read some more French history. Who are all of these people? I know a lot more about the British royal succession, perhaps because it’s more orderly and tidy than the French. Fewer revolutions. I did get to be closer and spend more time in front of the Mona Lisa than I ever had before. And I asked myself again, what’s the big deal? I think it’s beautiful and superbly executed and mysterious and all that; but what’s all the mystique about? The enormous painting on the wall across the room from Mona, The Wedding Feast at Cana, is a monumental and massive work. Why isn’t it famous? Is Mona our oldest celebrity? More photographed than Diana, Princess of Wales? My real love is 20th century art (and is likely to become 21st century art), but I can see and appreciate the long foundation underneath the things I love. I’d still rather have a Van Gogh than the Mona Lisa any day. I’m making my fantasy list of paintings I’d love to live with, and Mona isn’t on it.
The Louvre has done a masterful job on their website. Their collection is so vast. They’ve provided an incredible level of detail and access to information. Kudos to the people who did this monumental work.
Renee and I also spent quite a long time in the Musee d’Orsay, which is a beautiful building housing a large swath of French painting as well as sculptures and decorative arts. It’s the place to go to see art after 1848.
The Rodin Museum is also housed in a beautiful building. It’s great to see The Thinker and The Kiss, but my favorite part of this exhibit was seeing what art Rodin collected for himself, especially the Van Gogh paintings that he owned. I saw a painting I’d never seen before, even as a reproduction, that I just love. It’s called Portrait of Père Tanguy and has an homage to Japanese woodblock works in the background. I could spend hours with this painting.
I also got to see a great Matisse exhibit of his late work, called A Second Life. This show had several of his monumental cutouts, and the Jazz Series, as well as many of his late paintings. This exhibit was quite crowded, and I gave up on the claustrophobic gift shop after being bumped around. I’ll buy the exhibition catalog from my friend Jenny’s bookstore. Matisse is one of my favorite artists.