An embarrassment of riches

From Velazquez to Bonnard: Paris dazzles with art exhibitions but nothing compares to street life in City of Light

Paris dazzles with major art exhibitions and living art on the streets

Velazquez painting at Grand Palais in Paris
The first exhibition of Diego Velazquez in France is a hot ticket. Courtesy photo
Looking down the Seine over the shoulder of nymph sculpture decorating Pont Alexandre III in Paris
Looking down the Seine over the shoulder of nymph sculpture decorating Pont Alexandre III. Photo by Leslie Loddeke
Bonnard La Symphonie pastorale artwork at Musee d'Orsay in Paris
Pierre Bonnard's La Symphonie pastorale is part of the exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Classique Metropolitain performs an impromptu concert in Place Colette in Paris
The string ensemble Classique Metropolitain performs an impromptu concert before appreciative passersby in Place Colette. Photo by Leslie Loddeke
Caravaggio's Sleeping Cupid in Paris
Caravaggio's The Sleeping Cupid is in the exhibit “From Giotto to Caravaggio, the passions of Roberto Longhi." Wikimedia Commons
Velazquez painting at Grand Palais in Paris
Looking down the Seine over the shoulder of nymph sculpture decorating Pont Alexandre III in Paris
Bonnard La Symphonie pastorale artwork at Musee d'Orsay in Paris
Classique Metropolitain performs an impromptu concert in Place Colette in Paris
Caravaggio's Sleeping Cupid in Paris

While the fabulous Fondation Louis Vuitton and its blockbuster exhibition "Key to a Passion" are attracting beaucoup attention in Paris, there are plenty of other beautiful sights to see on an art tour of the perennially lovely City of Light.

I found a plethora when I booked my recent trip and found an RFI story summing up art exhibitions in Paris from February through September 2015. This timely wrap by Tony Cross is a rare jewel, and highly recommended reading for those visiting Paris during that time. Be sure to watch for the individual exhibition closing dates within that period.

From this handy compilation, I chose to visit the aforementioned “Keys” exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton, "Velazquez" at the Grand Palais, “From Giotto to Caravaggio – The Passions of Robert Longhi” at musee Jacquemart-Andre, and “Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia” at musee d’Orsay.

Velazquez at Grand Palais

The Velazquez show at the Grand Palais was a huge draw, and very crowded on the day I visited. Best to book this one well in advance if you want to see a fine array of this great Spanish artist’s most elegant work while in Paris rather than going to Madrid and visiting the Prado museum, where most of it is housed.

No exhibition on Diego Velasquez (1599-1660) has ever been organized in France before, which gives you a clue as to why this is such a hot ticket. 

The two-page exhibition brochure notes that no exhibition on Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), described as one of the most important figures in the history of art, has ever been organized in France before, which gives you a clue as to why this is such a hot ticket. 

Velazquez was the official painter of Philip IV, king of Spain (1605-1665), and if you click the link under the king’s name, you can see a number of the artist’s ornate court portraits on that Wikipedia page and contemplate seeing the real thing in Paris.

Giotto to Caravaggio

After you finish savoring those Spanish delicacies, you might want to Metro up to the 8th arrondissement to musee Jacquemart-Andre for a taste of Italy. “From Giotto to Caravaggio, the passions of Roberto Longhi” presents great Italian paintings from the 14th to the 17th century from the collection of the late art historian Longhi as well as works loaned by French and Italian museums.

Caravaggio (“Boy bitten by a lizard,” “The crowning with thorns,” “The sleeping Cupid”), Ribera (“Saint Thomas”), Giotto di Bondone (“Saint John the Evangelist”), Masaccio “Madonna and Child,” and others are represented in this impressive show.

Built in 1875, the Jacquemart-Andre is a huge, elaborately decorated structure that served for many years as the residence of two well-to-do art collectors, banking heir Edouard Andre and his artist wife, Nelie Jacquemart. Their opulent home is well worth touring apart from the exhibition.

Bonnard retrospective

The Bonnard exhibition at musee d'Orsay takes the viewer on a retrospective trip that shows unexpected sides to this post-Impressionist painter, one of the founders of the Nabi movement, whom I’ve always associated with richly decorated, multi-pattern domestic scenes. The show illustrates why Bonnard (1867-1947) is described on the museum website as “a leading exponent of the Arcadian movement” in paintings that emphasized pastoral simplicity and oneness with nature.   

For me, it was delightful to discover Bonnard’s gift for communicating the true beauty of colors found in nature -- especially the yellow tones that mesmerized him in the sunny French Riviera, epitomized by “The Studio with Mimosa.”

I left the exhibition gift shop with a sampling of pretty Bonnard bookmarks and postcards including one depicting “Crepuscule,” also called “La Partie de Croquet” (1892), a pleasant scene of a little party of men and women playing croquet.

Living art outside

I always enjoy the great art that I see in the museums on my visits to Paris because it gives me fresh eyes with which to appreciate the living art I see outside. In Paris, the art that I enjoy most is on the streets, in the long views from the beautiful old bridges over the Seine, and in the parks. It’s my greatest pleasure to walk long distances throughout this city in search of new discoveries outside my carefully prepared must-see lists. Paris, a cosmopolitan city strongly focused on artistic presentation, never fails to surprise and please.

 Paris, a cosmopolitan city strongly focused on artistic presentation, never fails to surprise and please. 

On my walks, in the course of a week, I encountered many Paris-picturesque sights and sounds, like those of the street musicians entertaining the people waiting in line outside the musee d’Orsay and Grand Palais. I particularly appreciated the talented string ensemble, Classique Metropolitain, whom I encountered as they were performing Vivaldi before an enthusiastic audience that continued to expand in Place de la Colette near Palais Royal.

I saw hordes of dreamily smiling people basking in the Chagall blue-sky weather, strolling the streets like me, amiably jamming the steps of La Madeleine, lounging on the broad lawns outside the Eiffel Tower, all happily immersed in their own romantic picture shows of their love affair with Paris.

Non, you can’t take it with you. But I did find a way to take a little of the happiness exclusive to Paris back home to Houston with me. I bought a packet of “Le Bonheur” (which means "happiness" in English), a delicious flavor of tea, at Fauchon in Place de la Madeleine, assisted by Benoit, the charming manager.

I won’t say it has mystical properties, but somehow, whenever I have a cup of “Le Bonheur” here in Houston, I can savor that special brand of Paris happiness all over again.

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Contributor Leslie Loddeke previously reported on the new Louis Vuitton museum in Paris and its masterpiece exhibition in a CultureMap article.