Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Day with Degas (Introduction)

As an artist, Degas maintains a strong hold on me and has for some time.  And while many artists have inspired me at one time or another, they lacked the longevity that grew with my own artistic journey and development.  Often times, as artists, we can find something in the work of an artist that addresses a question we have about our own work, or affirms an aesthetic of formal belief we hold ourselves, it can teach us about process or methodology, or simply inspires us with technique or subject matter.  This longevity I speak of though, requires that an artist's work have enough complexity that it can evolve with us as our craft develops and our ideas evolve. For me, the work of Degas is one such artist.

Like Manet, Degas came from a fairly affluent family and was exposed to classical music, theater and ballet.  His father, a banker, Auguste de Gas, was an amateur musician and lover of music and his mother, who died when Edgar was only 13, was an amateur opera singer. A famous Spanish musician and performer, Lorenzo Pagans, would often play private musical soirées at the homes of wealthy Parisiennes.  The de Gas home was one, the Maison Manet another. The exposure (and education) to classical music, opera and ballet, would have a profound impact on his work.  It's known that Degas was a regular to the rue Le Peletier opera before it burned in 1873.  This was the original opera that Garnier would replace. In later life, before Auguste's passing, Degas painted his elderly father listening intently to Pagans playing (see below).

"Degas' Father Listening to Lorenzo Pagans Playing the Guitar", c 1869-72, MFA, Boston
"Lorenzo Pagans et Auguste de Gas", c1871-72, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
In these two paintings Degas also 'recycles" subject matter and composition- repeating the image, gesture and placement of his father. Later on, he would paint "Ballerina and Woman with Umbrella", which utilizes a similar gesture on the right side (including the placement of the hands). This is also the same gesture he posed Mary Cassatt in for her seated portrait.

"L'Attente", c 1880-82, Getty Museum- Norton Simon Museum, Los Angeles- Pasadena, CA

"Portrait of Mary Cassatt", c 1879-1884, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
While I've been studying Degas for some time,  it was rekindled several years ago when I attended the "Degas and the Nude" exhibition both in Boston at the MFA and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris- the only two venues the exhibition traveled.  The exhibitions were slightly different (Paris had several works that were not included in Boston), and I have to say, I felt more excited seeing it Paris. Although the early work appeared to be unrelated to the late work, the ideas were very closed aligned.

When I traveled to Paris several weeks ago, I wanted to retrace some of his steps and look at some of his work intimately. His earlier work (and influences) in particular are of interest to me because they display his tenacity with his research and development of ideas, and the broad technical exploration, he utilized. I am eager to share some these observations over several posts.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Day with Monet (Part II)

I think I've been to the majority of the train stations in Paris now: Gare du Nord, Gare d'Austerlitz (the metro stopped here the night I took it to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital for my allergic reaction, and the same hospital that Princess Diana was taken when she was killed and the same hospital where Jacques Chirac had his pacemaker installed), Gare de l'Est, and Gare Montparnasse. Nothing compares to the chaos of Gare Saint-Lazare. I've never seen so much activity and anxiety in a public place as this. It was surreal. Imagine being on the floor of a Metallica concert in 1988 and having your luggage with you and you get an idea. I would've shot some video of it, but it was so out-of-control there that I opted to pass.

Wikipedia's listing on Gare Saint-Lazare states:

It is the second busiest railway station in Europe with 100,000,000 passengers transiting every year, and also the second station in Paris, behind the Gare du Nord. It handles 450,000 passengers each day......

The Gare Saint-Lazare has been represented in a number of artworks. It attracted artists during the Impressionist period and many of them lived very close to the Gare St-Lazare during the 1870s and 1880s.

Édouard Manet lived close by, at 4 rue de Saint-Pétersbourg. Two years after moving to the area he showed his painting "Le Chemin de Fer" at the Paris Salon in 1874. Painted from the backyard of a friend's house on the nearby rue de Rome, this canvas, now in the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C., portrays a woman with a small dog and a book as she sits facing us in front of an iron fence; a young girl to her left views the railroad track and steam beyond it. At the time of its first exhibition it was caricatured and the subject of ridicule.

Gustave Caillebotte also lived just a short walk away from the station. He painted Le Pont de l’Europe (The Bridge of Europe) in 1876 (now in the Petit Palais, Musée d’Art Moderne in Geneva, Switzerland) and "On the Pont de l'Europe"[6] in 1876-80 (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth). While the former picture looks across the bridge with the ironworks diagonally crossing the picture to the right, with a scene of partially interacting chickens on the bridge to the left, the latter depicts the iron structure of the bridge face-on in a strong close-up of its industrial geometry, with three male figures to the left side of the painting all looking in different directions (the Pont de l'Europe is a massive bridge spanning the railyard of the newly-expanded station, which at that time had an iron-work trellis).

In 1877, painter Claude Monet rented a studio near the Gare Saint Lazare. That same year he exhibited seven paintings of the railway station in an impressionist painting exhibition. He completed 11 paintings of this subject.

Once I purchased my round trip ticket, I took a grand creme and waited for my train to be listed. The platform is quite remarkable. They've sought to preserve the look of the station over the years. The platform was busy, but much less hectic than where the metro stop and terminal met.

This is what I was thinking of......

And this is what I saw:

I took a bullet train out to Vernon, which is a small town of about 500-600 people along the Seine.  As you take the train northwest to Vernon, you keep crossing it (I think 3 times) and each time I thought it was a new river. An elderly lady seated across from me had said good morning to me. I replied, "Bonjour Madame. Comment ca va ce matin?" I could tell she didn't speak english (and she was about to realize I couldn't speak french). I asked her, "Quel fleuve est-ce?" and she replied, "C'est la Seine." The second time I asked again and she laughed said, "C'est aussi la Seine." The last time we crossed I looked at her, raised my eyebrows, pointed to river, she laughed and nodded, affirmatively, without saying anything. It had become our little joke. Many interactions like that made me grin from ear to ear.

 I purchased a ticket with only one stop at Mantes la Jolie, and since Vernon is only 40km away, I made it in about 30 minutes. The landscape was really beautiful once we started leaving Paris. Initially it was pretty industrial with the most recognizable plant being that of Renault who had apparently moved operations elsewhere.

Trains move very fast in Europe and I always love being on them. Sometimes the speed isn't that noticeable until you are just standing there watching one go by, as this one did heading to Rouen.

It wasn't until later that I began to realize the route that Monet had been taking all those years, and all of the paintings that he completed on this path. The train from St. Lazare ran to Le Havre and both Vernon and Rouen (where all of the famous paintings of that cathedral were painted and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake) were on the way. While Monet was born in Paris, at the age of five his family moved to the coast town of Le Havre, where he would eventually study with Eugene Boudin.

Vernon is extremely small and you need to take a bus or taxi out to Giverny which is just on the other side of the river. In typical french fashion a gothic church is at, or near, the city center, standing above the smaller dwellings.  I have no info on the church though.

Friends of Monet Pizzeria :)

Once I arrived in Giverny, I crossed under the road and walked down the street to the entrance to the grounds.  From what I could gather, the majority of the dwellings had been converted into shops and restaurants. You walk up the rue de Claude Monet (not very creative, huh?) and as you purchase tickets to enter, you can see a layout of the gardens and his house.

Here are a number of pics of the grounds.

Perhaps the most well-known and popular is the Japanese bridge and water lilies.

The gardens were incredible, but there was a lot of traffic. Since the weather had been so awful in Paris, everyone had decided to check out the gardens on one of the first nice days. As a result, I headed back to the entrance to see his house and studio.

The outside view of Monet's studio

You're not allowed to take photographs of any sort inside, but I did manage to take a couple.  Here are a couple of his studio and a room with ukiyo-e prints and ceramics.

The view of Monet's gardens from his studio window.

I continued on through the house which was loaded with old photographs, reproductions of paintings and drawings by Degas, Renoir, Boudin and some others. Upon entering and leaving the site there's a huge gallery store all things Monet. My favorite part of the store was the huge amount of publications on gardening and cooking. There's even a section that sells a variety of seeds of flowers and plants which I believe are from his garden.  Here are some shots of it. 

I'll post another entry on Giverny in the next day or so. Until then you may want to check out Stephanie Colwell's book.  In addition, NPR did a wonderful article him a couple of years ago. This and others are all downloaded on my iPhone for listening while in Paris.  If you haven't heard it, it can be found here:

NPR's: Monet in Normandy: The Making of Impressionism