If you have ever been to Paris in the spring, I am sure you would agree that it is truly the best time to visit the city. Dearly sought after rays of sunshine cast golden shadows over the Haussmannian boulevards, whilst the blue skies reawaken dreams of long evenings spent sipping kir royals along the quai. But Paris in spring offers so much more than relief from a long winter, which can be even wetter and greyer than our own. It offers cultural enrichment that is unparalleled anywhere else at this time of year. In the wake of TEFAF Maastricht, an international art fair of the most exquisite excellence and quality that subsumes the entire art world for the best part of two weeks, the most dedicated collectors and exhibitors migrate to Paris for a number of temporary art salons including PAD Paris, Art Paris Art Fair and the Salon du Dessin. Paris’ renowned cultural institutions simultaneously open their doors for their spring exhibitions. What follows is a snapshot of Paris’ spring highlights.
First up, Le Douanier Rousseau: L’Innocence Archaïque (22 March – 17 July 2016) at the Musée d’Orsay. Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910) was a post-impressionist French painter working in the naïve tradition at the beginning of the twentieth century. In other words, Rousseau consciously created anticlassical works that juxtaposed with the official style of Salon painting. An adaptation of the first presentation of the artist’s work at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, this exhibition sheds a critical light on this somewhat overlooked artist and his innovative avant-garde oeuvre. Through a comparison with Rousseau’s contemporaries including Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Carlo Carrà, Diego Rivera, Max Ernst amongst others, the great influence of the artist at the beginning of the twentieth century becomes startlingly clear.
With no classical training, Rousseau turned his hand to painting in his early 40s. Dubbed ‘un peintre du dimanche’, an ‘amateur painter’ by contemporary critics, Rousseau sought to defy categorization. Although his early work was rejected by the official Salon, his play with perspective and vibrant colours soon earned him attention from both collectors and critics alike. As the self-proclaimed inventor of ‘Portrait-Landscapes’, Rousseau’s compositions were refreshingly original and provided a clear link between the Italian Primitives and German avant-garde artists, later known as The Blue Riders. While his jungle landscapes, inspired by visions of a lost paradise and the innocence of the Primitive world, are his most celebrated works, the current exhibition is peppered with numerous other masterpieces including Portrait de Frumence Biche en civil, 1892, and La Charmeuse de serpents, 1907. Although Rousseau’s distorted figures and naïve style may not be to everyone’s taste, the exhibition is beautifully curated and challenges preconceptions of early modernism. Not too long and not too short, I had enough energy after a comprehensive whiz round to glimpse the museum’s permanent collection. Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, is a highlight; it is a painting that just keeps on giving.
Not a connoisseur of early-twentieth-century painting, I returned that evening on foot to the incredibly well placed Hotel Westminster, a little perplexed by Rousseau’s innovative style. Yet a quick pit stop at the Duke’s bar quelled any growing apprehensions. With a tailor-made Signature cocktail, concocted by one of the Hotel Westminster’s talented mixologists in one hand and the Douanier Rousseau catalogue in the other, I allowed myself to just sit back and reflect on the art of making in all its forms.
The Hotel Westminster, just a stone’s throw from so many of Paris’ cultural and architectural highlights, is the ideal place to stay for a whirlwind trip. Steeped in tradition and quintessential elegance, The Westminster is a grand Parisian masterpiece. Taking its name form the Duke of Westminster, who relished staying at the hotel in the mid-nineteenth century, it boasts an elegant yet sophisticated bar, a Michelin-starred restaurant and 28 newly refurbished Signature Rooms and Suites. These rooms are courtyard facing and so pin-drop quiet, and the bathrooms are chic but not over the top fancy. This is a hotel that takes pride in its 200-year heritage, and its plush, chincy interiors only add to its Parisian charm.
Next up, The Open-Air Studio: The Impressionists in Normandy, Turner, Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Signac at the Jacquemart-André. Now a private museum, the Jacquemart-André was once a hôtel particulier and home to Edouard and Nélie Jacquemart-André. Housing one of the finest collections of eighteenth-century painting, objets d’art and furniture in Paris, this museum is well worth the visit, although a little off the beaten track.
The current exhibition highlights the influence of the Normandy region on the Impressionists. Its prime geographical location, the mid-point between London and Paris, its natural beauty and famous lumière attracted artists from Delacroix to Monet, Renoir Boudin and Signac throughout the nineteenth century. Today the Impressionists are synonymous with ‘en plein air’ painting, and every work in this exhibition illustrates the liberating freedom this stylistic technique afforded its adherents. Claude Monet’s Etretat, la porte d’Aval, bateaux de pêche sortant du port, around 1885, beautifully depicts the rugged Normand costal scenery where jagged cliffs plunge into tranquil waters while Renoir’s La Cueillette des moules à Berneval, 1879, captures a simple scene from la vie quotidienne. The Open Air Studio is a small but comprehensive exhibition that is as seductive as it is spectacular and an absolute must for Impressionist enthusiasts.
And on to the Salon du Dessin… While the Salon du Dessin is now over, it is one of the highlights of the art world’s calendar. So, a pit-stop to see a collection of the world’s most intricate, delicate and exquisite works on paper by celebrated European Masters was obligatory.
This year celebrated the salon’s 25th anniversary, and what a celebration it was. Located in Paris’ Bourse in the imposing Palais de Brongniart in the 2nd arrondissement, the Salon du Dessin welcomed 39 exhibitors from across Europe and the United States. Severely undervalued by the amateur art goer, drawings are often regarded as preliminary sketches to an artist’s final, often painted, masterpiece. Yet works on paper often betray the artist’s true talent and can be as absorbing as the final work itself. Exhibited drawings by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun, François Boucher and Le Corbusier cannot be described as anything but breathtaking and a real treat for the French eighteenth and nineteenth-century enthusiast. While the Salon is sadly over for this year, a guided visit of Paris’ Opéra Garnier would be a wonderful alternative and only a few minutes walk from La Bourse.
By Lucy Scovell