Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 31: Museum of Modern Art, City of Paris

The City of Paris has its own collection of Modern Art, and its own museum, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. A large portion of the museum's galleries is given to temporary exhibitions, and the exhibits of its own collection appear to be changed frequently. The collection tends to emphasize art made in Paris, though much of it was made by artists from other countries. Some of the art was purchased by the museum, but much of it came from artists' heirs who couldn't pay the tax on their inheritance. The great strength of the museum is the capacity to display the work of certain artists in great depth.

Pierre Bonnard, who began his art career in the 1890s and worked into the 1940s, generally painted intimate scenes of daily activities in his own home, often featuring his wife. His obsession was color, and he was influenced by Gauguin's acidic contrasts and the wild colors of the Fauves. His brushstrokes were loose, recalling the Impressionists, but his level of blurry vagueness is unique and gives his work a dreamlike quality. These works come from his mature period.

Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947
Nude in the Bath, 1936
Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947
Lunch, 1932
Bonnard's friend, Édouard Vuillard, painted this portrait of him.

Édouard Vuillard, 1868-1940
Portrait of Pierre Bonnard, 1930-35
Henri Matisse was a dominant force in art all during the first half of the 20th century. In America, his biggest collector was Albert Barnes, who founded the Barnes Museum in Merion, Pennsylvania, since re-located to Philadelphia. When Matisse met with Barnes in Merion in 1930, Barnes commissioned him to decorate the central hall in his new museum. Matisse worked on it in Paris for over a year before he discovered that his measurements were off by nearly a whole meter. He had to start all over again. The City of Paris Museum has the first canvas. Dan and I have seen the finished work installed at the Barnes Museum, and it complements the building perfectly.

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
The Dance, 1931-1933
Bart van der Leck was a Dutch painter who first interested me when we were in the Netherlands. For several years, his major subject was crowd scenes. His stylized figures are anonymous, and they are crowded into a flat space to form a decorative design.

Bart van der Leck, 1876-1958
At the Market, 1913
Kees Van Dongen was a Dutch artist who made his career in Paris. He was one of the original Fauvists around 1905. In the 1920s he became popular as a portrait painter to the upper class. The first example depicts an actress playing a role.

Kees Van Dongen, 1877-1968
Maria Ricotti in “L’Enjôleuse”, 1921
The next painting is a society portrait with a twist, in the form of a vase of chrysanthemums being handed into the space by an off-canvas figure. What does this say about the woman portrayed?

Kees Van Dongen, 1877-1968
Portrait de Renée Maha, called Le Sphinx, 1920
Raoul Dufy was a French painter who is generally known as a Fauvist. This first example looks a lot like the Orphist style of Robert Delaunay. The design is based on a group of people enjoying a cocktail in an outdoor cafe.

Raoul Dufy, 1877-1953
The Aperitif, 1908
Born in 1877, by the 1920s Dufy had developed a distinctive style characterized by bright colors thinly spread over a white ground, with objects only sketchily delineated. He liked to paint public places and events, such as this horse race at a fair. He was very popular in his time, but later his work seemed more decorative than significant.

Raoul Dufy, 1877-1953
Race course at Epsom, c. 1934
Albert Gleizes, a Frenchman, wrote the first major treatise on Cubism in 1912 with his friend Jean Metzinger, also French. In this example, Gleizes takes up the traditional scene of bathers—the yellow-toned band on the bottom half—but places it in a modern suburban setting—the band of green-toned forms across the top half.

Albert Gleizes, 1881-1953
The Bathers, 1912
In this example from Metzinger, the design shows a blue bird being held, perhaps kissed, by a standing figure, possibly male, while a female nude lounges across the bottom of the canvas behind him. Another figure deeper in the background waves a fan. Small insets depicting a ship, a dome, and a palm tree relate the image to travel. These two artists were seriously committed to Cubism.

Jean Metzinger, 1883-1956
The Blue Bird, 1913
Fernand Léger was also one of the original Cubists. His version emphasized the cylinder and the cone, and the sleek forms of the machine age.

Fernand Léger, 1881-1955
Contrast of forms, 1918
Fernand Léger, 1881-1955
The man with the pipe, 1920
Robert Delaunay started his painting career as a Cubist around 1910. His version combined fragmented Cubist form with dynamic movement and vibrant color. In this poster-like painting, he related the speed and energy of a game of football to the novelty of flight, the engineering marvel of the Eiffel tower, and the extravagance of a giant Ferris wheel, as symbols of modern life.

Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
The Cardiff Team, 1913
In this example, luscious color dominates the design, and the objects tend to fade. This style was dubbed Orphism by the critics.

Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
Symphony of Colors, 1917
Eventually Delaunay gave up subject matter and went completely abstract. This next painting is one of three murals that were commissioned to decorate the Salon des Tuileries.

Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
Rythm No. 3, decoration for the Salon des Tuileries, 1938
Marc Chagall was a Jewish Russian painter who spent much of his career, which spanned from 1910 to 1980, in Paris. His style was unique, but his presentations of dreams and memories were popular with the Surrealists. In this example, a macho rabbit is carrying off a swooning maiden in an upside-down world.

Marc Chagall, 1887-1985
The Dream, 1927
Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian painter who lived in Paris off and on throughout his career, alternating with Rome. In recognition of the artist's bond with his adopted city, in 2011 the de Chirico Foundation bequeathed 61 works from the last half of his career to the City of Paris, which had already acquired several of his paintings. It enhances your understanding of an artist to see a great number of his or her works at once.

De Chirico is most famous for what he called 'metaphysical' paintings. In these he aimed to express an idea, or perhaps a spiritual state, by depicting several symbolic objects in a symbolic space. His symbolism was private, so each viewer is free to spin his or her own story around the image. The style is hard-edge and flat. The mood tends to be isolation, loneliness, and disorientation. Many are built around empty plazas.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Antique Idyll, c. 1970
Others depict claustrophobically crowded interiors.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Metaphysical interior with landscape, house and fountain, 1955
De Chirico was very interested in classical mythology. Late in his career he told the story of Ulysses' homecoming after his adventurous voyage in comical symbolism. We know he is home because he is in his living room, and the wide ocean is out the window. We know this is a story of classical mythology by the relics of columns. Perhaps he remembers his homecoming. Perhaps he feels at sea in a different way.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
The Return of Ulysses, 1973
He also had a brushier style that was influenced by Rubens. This next painting could have been painted by Rubens, except that the way the large fruit dominate the landscape has a surrealistic feel.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Still life in a country landscape, c. 1943
Here's a self-portrait with his second wife Isabella in a traditional style.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Isa and Giorgio, undated
This next painting doesn't fit any style, but it is especially amusing. It shows a brave knight returning to his castle after a foray. Both knight and mount look pretty frazzled. "Get me some ale!"

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Return to the castle, undated
Horses and zebras were a major subject for awhile. In this painting the horse has an improbably long mane, perhaps symbolizing unfettered power. It stands with a zebra on the seashore, surrounded by classical remnants. Is this something about harmony in a golden age?

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Horse and zebra, 1948
Here's an extraordinary bust of a horse. It's very unusual to paint a portrait of a horse, and I think it represents de Chirico's own fiery spirit.

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978
Head of a white horse, 1958
Anton  Räderscheidt was a German painter who was a leading figure of the New Objectivity. This unusual painting expresses a point of view about gender identity that I think is shared by many.

Anton Räderscheidt, 1892-1970
Self-portrait, 1928
Jean Dubuffet was a French artist who always trying to shake things up. In a career that lasted from the mid-1940s to the mid-1980s, he sought to embrace lowly values—primitivism, ugliness, and insanity. For awhile he was interested in using lowly materials such as dirt to create an image. In this 'painting' the image is a pattern of bark. You've probably noticed how attractive tree bark can be.

Jean Dubuffet, 1901-1985
Woody path, 1949
Jenny Holzer is a living American artist who creates art from pithy statements, sometimes carving them in stone, sometimes flashing them in lighted signs. Here she presented a bronze plaque. The odd thing is that this plaque was not identified by a wall tag. This is the second museum where I have seen her bronze sayings tucked in an odd hallway without any identification. Go figure.

Jenny Holzer, b. 1950

The Museum of Modern art occupies one half of a handsome classical building called Palais de Tokyo, which was constructed in 1937 for an international exposition. The other half is home to a contemporary art gallery that we didn't tour. The day of our visit was rainy.

Palais de Tokyo
Art deco bas relief decoration
Monumental nudes flank the entrance path.