A Surprise from George and More Art Than You Can Shake a Paintbrush At

Let me start by conveying my thanks to my friend George Phillip for sending me his video impression of my retirement. Without ever seeing this blog he totally captured the spirit of it. I am in awe of his telepathic powers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This video (along with Nancy’s comment) have inspired me to turn over a new leaf and leave my sleaze-ball ways behind me. Gone are the tacky suits, blow-dryer, and I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. From now on I’m Mr. Engaged, Senor Culture, the Wizard of Deep Insight, Commissioner Gordon (Batman’s buddy).

So what have the Fabulous Miss K and I been up to since we got to Paris? First thing first, we attacked our jet lag, and as soon as it was conquered the French instituted their version of daylight savings time. They show no mercy, merci.

Yesterday we hiked a couple of miles downstream to the Musee D’Orsay, with its fabulous collection of art from the 1800s. This was a return visit for us and one of only 2 (or maybe 3) we’ll visit. We were surrounded by Ingres, Gaugins, and the other Impressionists and true to their name they did impress us. The coolest moment of the day was when Karen and I looked at each other simultaneously said, “I really like Pisarro.” His stuff is sometimes overlooked among the other heavy’s of that era but we liked it a lot. The other surprise of the day was how much we liked Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings. Of course we’ve seen his work many times, but it never impressed me that much until yesterday. His portraits have such a life in them and seem to glow from within. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it before (probably because there aren’t that many of his works at the race track.)

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The big WTF moment was when I walked into one of the rooms and there was Whistler’s Mother. I’m talking about the painting, not his actual mother.) It’s the only American art in the museum and I can’t for the life of me figure out what the big deal is about that painting. It seems like it was created just to be parodied or put on every fourth joke greeting card. I even spent this morning reading about the painting to try to learn why it is so iconic. I’m still not convinced. All I can say is that it the painting strikes me as the anti-Guernica which moved me very deeply (and surprisingly) when I saw it a couple of years ago in Madrid. That painting is full of meaning, life, movement, power, and statement. Whistler’s mother mostly seems full of fatigue. I mean when you see the Girl with the Pearl Earring you can’t help but wonder what she is doing, what she is thinking, where she is going. When you see Whistler’s Mother you can’t help but wonder if she lived through the sitting. It reminds me of the closing scene of Psycho when you find the mother sitting in the chair in the basement (or attic?) only with Whistler’s mom there is no drama, suspense, or much of anything. I only wonder if she was able to stand up. Probably not, since the painting was made prior to the invention of Geritol.

All that said, the Musee D,Orsay is one of my favorite buildings of all time. It’s a converted 19th century train station and it has its own inherent beauty, that oddly enough feels warm and industrial at the same time. I’m including two shots we took, one from a peephole on the top floor, and the other from this restaurant that shows how crazy the French can be when they want to convert something old into something nouveau. Check out the lamps and chairs.

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Today, we hiked across the river from the Musee D’Orsay to the Musee De L’Orangerie. Again this museum has the most amazing collection of impressionists I’ve seen yet. From Renoir’s soft paeans to the beauty of women (he actually said “If it weren’t for women’s breasts I never would have painted.”) to Soutine’s cow carcasses dripping blood hanging from hooks (he sounds like he had some “issues.”) But the centerpiece of this amazing place is the eight gigantic Monet waterlilies he painted near the end of his life. Each of these is about 40 feet long and eight feet high and just the process of painting them is phenomenol. But here’s what makes the French so great— they built a museum, at the artists direction, and designed it specifically to show off these paintings in two oval rooms. And they do this on the most valuable piece of real estate in Paris (not exactly a low-rent town to begin with.)

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More later.

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3 thoughts on “A Surprise from George and More Art Than You Can Shake a Paintbrush At

  1. Musee De L’Orangerie–I was there in 1998, sitting by myself, when a loud group of four year olds (about 30 with two teachers) ran into the room. I wanted to thrown myself in front of the water lilies, but I knew such an effort to protect them would be futile. Was I ever off? One of the teachers said one word to the children, and they all quietly sat themselves down near the bench, and proceeded to listen attentively while the teachers talked about the paintings for several minutes. This was followed by a give-and-take among the kids and teachers!!

    • What a great story. I wish I could have seen that. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take your group of pre-schoolers to see Monet’s masterpieces? We do such a horrible job of teaching young children aesthetics. It’s not even thought of as part of a curriculum.

      On the other hand you may not be aware of the research whereby groups of French schoolchildren were given Picasso paint-by-number sets. They then conducted a longitudinal study and 20 years later found that these same children, now adults, had an astronomical rate of auto accidents. Apparently none of them could tell where the curb really was and they kept making left hand turns into boulangeries.

  2. I love to see another person’s perspective of art especially when it involves a comment about Geritol!

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