Friday, May 25, 2018

Visitors to Versailles,1682-1789 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Visitors to Versailles,1682-1789 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 16, 2018 - July 29, 2018

Reviewed by Ed Voves
Photos by Anne Lloyd

"The best of all possible worlds." 

That was how, in 1710, the great German scientist and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz described the moral order of Planet Earth. Leibniz’ book, Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, was an essential text of the Enlightenment.

A generation before Leibniz published his theory of how God regulated the universe, the king of France, Louis XIV (1638-1715), had created his version of “the best of all possible worlds." A centralized political power structure, with Louis XIV as the absolute ruler, governed France from an awe-inspiring palace that was the wonder of the world.

In ancient Rome, all roads had led to to the palace of the Caesars. During the reigns of Louis XIV and his successors, all roads led to Versailles.

A sensational exhibit now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Visitors to Versailles, tells the incredible story of how a distant suburb of Paris became the center point of the Western world from 1682 to 1789. It also shows how the French Revolution destroyed Louis XIV‘s “best of all possible” realms.  

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Visitors to Versailles exhibit

The Tisch Galleries on the second floor of the Met have been transformed to evoke the glistening Hall of Mirrors and the incredible gardens at Versailles. The famed labyrinth of Versailles featured statues from Aesop's Fables. We see these wondrous creatures on display in a simulated garden setting at the Met and the effect is magical.

        Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Visitors to Versailles exhibit          Sculpture of Fox Setting Fire to the Tree with the Eagle’s Nest,1673–74

Nearly two hundred works of art, many from the collection of the Palace of Versailles, document the role of Versailles in shaping political and social attitudes during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Louis XIV attempted to build a model of Divine Right Absolutism with marble, gilded mirrors and spectacular fountains. Ironically, this generated so much popular interest in Versailles that it become more of a tourist attraction than a political stronghold.

Louis XIV came to the throne at age four in 1643. He spent his youth under the close supervision of the regent, Cardinal Mazarin. When he attained full power in 1661, Louis discovered that his finance minister, Nicholas Fouquet, was putting the finishing touches to a grand chateau northeast of Paris, Vaux-le Vicomte. Fouquet invited the young monarch for a visit in the hope of impressing him. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Antoine Coysevox’s Louis XIV,1678–81

Louis was indeed astonished at the beauty and grandeur of Vaux-le Vicomte but suspected (correctly) that Fouquet was embezzling state funds. Louis ordered Captain d’Artagnan, of Three Musketeers fame, to find lodgings for Fouquet in the Bastille. Louis proceeded to seize Vaux-le Vicomte as a country palace for himself. It was the most superb building of recent design in all of France. But there was one problem. Vaux-le Vicomte would always be associated with Fouquet, even though he was rotting in a dungeon.

Looking around for a site for his own version of Vaux-le Vicomte, Louis focused his plans on the  hunting lodge built by his father, ten miles southwest of Paris. It was called Versailles and there Louis sent Fouquet's architect, Louis Le Vau (1612-1670) and landscape designer, André Le Nôtre (1613-1700). Under Le Vau (before he died of overwork) and Jules Hardouin-Mansert (1646-1708), Versailles was transformed from a modest red brick country retreat to a virtual capital city in its own right. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Visitors to Versailles,1682–1789 exhibit       Pierre Denis Martin’s View of the Château de Versailles from the Place d'Armes,1722

By 1682, the vast building project was completed. Louis XIV lived at Versailles year round, ruling France in an autocratic fashion. The entire French court and many government ministers relocated to Versailles or spent the bulk of their time at the palace complex. Paris (which Louis XIV detested) was relegated to second-rank.

The French nobility, foreign ambassadors and celebrities from across Europe all thronged to Versailles. Given the prestige of France in the late 1600's to the mid-1700's, Versailles exerted a magnetic attraction for the powerful, the power-hungry and curiosity-seekers.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Visitors to Versailles exhibit                Travelers’ costumes: man’s wool suit, c.1755-65, & woman’s riding habit,1770’s.

The Metropolitan Museum exhibit recreates the world of Versailles with special attention to those who visited the magnificent palace and gardens. Spectacular displays of period clothing contrast the sensible suits and traveling attire worn by people journeying to Versailles with the elaborate court costumes of the French nobility and the foreign diplomatic staff.

The eighteenth century was not only the Age of Enlightenment. It was the heyday of the Grand Tour. Many of the young English aristocrats on their way to Italy to view Roman ruins stopped at Versailles to see the sights. 

Pompeo Batonia, John Montagu, Lord Brudenell, 1758

One of these “milords" was a handsome, cultured grandee named John Montagu, Lord Brudenell. His Lordship went on the Grand Tour in 1751. His tutor, Henry Lyte  reported home that "Lord Brudenell wore his blue velvet for the first time" at a reception at Versailles. Later,  Pompeo Batoni, the talented Italian portraitist, painted Lord Brudenell in a blue velvet suit, likely the one he wore to the court of Louis XV.

Lord Brudenell and other "grand tourists" from Britain shared the stage of Versailles with visitors from father afield. Dignitaries from Turkey, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent arrived for audiences at Versailles. 

                     Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Sculptures by Claude-André Deseine                     Muhammad Osman Khan (right) and his nephew, 1788 

Among the last to visit before the French Revolution toppled the court at Versailles, were Muhammad Osman Khan and his nephew, representing the Kingdom of Mysore in today's India. Claude-André Deseine, a deaf-mute sculptor, presents these Asian diplomats with exceptional skill and sensitivity.

From closer to home, Russians, Germans and Swedes visited Versailles in large numbers. The King of Sweden, Gustav III was so impressed with Versailles when he toured the palace in 1771, that he tried to rule Sweden in the absolutist style of Louis XIV. For  a time, it looked like Gustav was going to succeed.  In 1792, as revolution swept Europe, Gustav was assassinated at a masked ball in Stockholm.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Joseph Siffred Duplessis’ Benjamin Franklin (1778)

Versailles figured in another political drama, with a happier ending.  In December 1776,  a visitor arrived representing the world’s newest nation, the “United States” of America.

The purpose of Benjamin Franklin’s visit to Versailles was business, not pleasure. The ceramic group, which serves as the introductory illustration of this review, shows Franklin getting what he wanted: a military treaty from France. The biscuit-porcelain group shows King Louis XVI, looking every inch a grand monarch, presenting the treaty to a clueless-looking Franklin.

The inaccuracy, indeed absurdity, of the ceramic group would not have bothered Franklin. He knew that the revolutionary agenda of the Americans would not easily gain favor in France where the mystique of monarchy was greater than in Britain. Nor would fawning flattery win French support.

Franklin cleverly used the appeal of rustic charm, pragmatism and integrity to impress the French court. He arrived at Versailles, posing as the very embodiment of the character he had invented in 1732 for his almanacs, Poor Richard. To courtiers sated with protocol and indulgence, the appearance of Bonhomme Richard at Versailles was a sensation. 

Benjamin Franklin's Three-Piece Suit (habit à la française), 1778-79

One of Franklin’s unadorned suits is on display in the Metropolitan exhibition. This “ditto” (all of one color) suit was almost certainly made for Franklin in France. It may well be the plum-colored suit, with the addition of a fur collar, which we see in the 1778 portrait of Franklin by Joseph Duplessis. The suit was made with exceptional craftsmanship but without the embroidered decorations which were part of the standard uniform of dignitaries at Versailles. It has browned with age and has been very carefully treated by conservators at the Smithsonian in order to appear in the exhibit.

Franklin made a virtue of simplicity in a world of excess. The French were quick to acknowledge his human quality, as can been seen in Duplessis’ portrait (which Franklin highly approved) and even in the picture frame. There is no better tribute to Franklin than the single Latin word Vir which was inscribed at the bottom of the frame. Vir means “man,” in this case a man of virtue.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail of Joseph Duplessis’ Benjamin Franklin 

Versailles could be described by one word too, magnificence. But Louis XIV and his architects could have benefited from a little of Franklin’s common sense. Versailles could boast of 2300 rooms, 2153 windows, 67 staircases, gardens covering nearly 2000 acres with 50 fountains and a grand canal, 5.57 km in length. But there were no public lavatories. There was a commode in each of the 350 private apartments and that was all.

The call of nature, cannot be denied for long. Every secluded nook at Versailles served as a latrine. People, including nobles, urinated in stairways and behind columns. The foul smell that hung like a miasma about the palace wafted out to the gardens as well. The scent from the citrus trees in the Orangerie helped to ward off the stench from the palace.

Yet Versailles was worth a visit and not just to get military and financial aid as Franklin sought in the 1776. Versailles was the scene of great human drama and even more engaging human comedy, as Horace Walpole noted in a 1765 letter :

Versailles, like everything else, is a mixture of parade and poverty, and in every instance exhibits something most dissonant from our manners. In the colonnades, upon the staircases, nay in the antechambers of the royal family, there are people selling all sorts of wares. While we were waiting in the Dauphin’s sumptuous bedchamber, till his dressing-room door should be opened, two fellows were sweeping it, and dancing about in sabots to rub the floor.

Versailles in its heyday can be imagined by the details on a vast decorative screen painted Charles Cozette (1713–1797) around 1768-1770.  It was originally a painting before being transferred onto a screen. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Folding Screen & detail by Charles Cozette, 1768-70
We can see red-coated Swiss guards lined up on the drill ground of the Place d’Armes in front of the palace. Everywhere else is cheerful disorder, servants at work or taking their time about it, sauntering nobles and sight-seeing tourists.

There was certainly a lot to see at Versailles. Diplomats from distant realms such as the Kingdom of Mysore in India and Siam, present-day Thailand, brought expensive gifts which were displayed as testaments to the greatness of France. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Visitors to Versailles,1682–1789 exhibit   Lacquer cabinet from Japan,17th century, and cannon from Siam, c.1686

The silver-plated, long-barreled cannon from Siam and the lacquer cabinet from Japan also point to the French trade initiatives in Asia that would lead to war with Britain over control of India during the mid-1700's and the eventual dominion of France in Indochina.

The black and gold lacquer on this 1783 Drop-front Secretary, created by Jean Henri Riesener  for Marie-Antoinette, recall the popularity of Asian motifs in European decorative arts during the eighteenth century. But this imposing cabinet has a more significant story to tell. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Drop-front secretary by Jean Henri Riesener, 1783

The secretary was made by a  German-born craftsman for the very unpopular Austrian queen of France. There are several secret drawers in the secretary hidden beneath the hinged floor of the central compartment. Here, under separate  lock-and-key, Marie-Antoinette stored confidential documents. Of all the glittering objects from Versailles on view at the Met, this Secrétaire en armoire reveals the false, fragile structure of court life at Versailles.

Thomas Jefferson, who took over from Franklin as ambassador to France, observed the "best of all possible worlds" for kings and aristocrats come crashing down in 1789. The keen, perceptive eyes, so brilliantly sculpted in Houdon's portrait bust of Jefferson, watched as Louis XVI pinned a revolutionary cockade on his hat in a vain attempt to mollify the triumphant besiegers of the Bastille.

With shocking rapidity, the Ancien Regime collapsed and the staggering debts accumulated to build and maintain Versailles were paid for in blood. The ledger books for the construction of Versailles had been burned on the orders of Louis XIV. Following the fall of the Bastille, accounts were settled at the cost of the lives of the brave Swiss guards at Versailles, of loyal courtiers like Princesse de Lamballe who was hacked to pieces by the mob, and ultimately of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, "Madame Déficit."

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Jean Antoine Houdon’s Thomas Jefferson, 1789

Even before these deadly acts of retribution took place, Jefferson could see the ominous direction events in France were heading. He clearly understood the cost of maintaining the "dead weight" of past glory and unmerited privilege. In a letter to James Madison, dated September 6, 1789, Jefferson wrote: 

I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.

These sobering words, as true today as in 1789, are the most valuable insights which can possibly be derived from the Met's provocative exhibit, Visitors to Versailles. 

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                                Photos courtesy of Anne Lloyd, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Introductory Image
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Charles-Gabriel Sauvage's Figure of Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, 1780–85. Porcelain, 12 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 6 in. (32.4 x 24.1 x 15.2 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of William H. Huntington, 1883. Accession Number:83.2.260

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Visitors to Versailles exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Sculpture of Fox Setting Fire to the Tree with the Eagle’s Nest, 1673–74. Painted lead, 47 1/4 × 33 1/16 in., 2204.6 lb. (120 × 84 cm, 1000 kg) Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (MV 7946.1)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Antoine Coysevox's Louis XIV, 1678-81. Marble, 47 1/4 × 37 3/8 × 13 3/8 in., 661.4 lb. (120 × 95 × 34 cm, 300 kg)  Musée des National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (MV 789)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Pierre Denis Martin's View of the Château de Versailles from the Place d'Armes, 1722. Oil on canvas, 56 5/16 × 59 13/16 in. (143 × 152 cm). Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (MV 726)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Visitors to Versailles exhibition, British traveling attire, man’s wool suit, c.1755-65, Metropolitan Museum Collection & woman’s riding habit,1770’s from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Pompeo Batoni (Italian, 1708–1787) John Montagu, Lord Brudenell, Later Marquess of Monthermer, 1758. Oil on canvas, 38 × 28 in. (96.5 × 71.1 cm) The Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry, Boughton House, United Kingdom (BLHT/BH/122)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Claude-André Deseine's Sculptures of Nephew of Muhammad Osman Khan and Muhammad Osman Khan, 1788. Both sculptures, Terracotta with carved wood base.  Nephew, without base: 18 1/2 × 13 3/16 × 7 11/16 in. (47 × 33.5 × 19.5 cm). Muhammad Osman Khan, without base:  21 1/4 × 15 3/4 × 9 13/16 in. (54 × 40 × 25 cm) Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Sculptures, (RF 4664, RF 2334) Muhammad Osman Khan, Gift of Pierre-Évariste Villemant, 1934

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Joseph Siffred Duplessis' Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), 1778, Oil on canvas, Oval, 28 1/2 x 23 in. (72.4 x 58.4 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. Accession Number:32.100.132

Benjamin Franklin's Three-Piece Suit (habit à la française), c.1778–79. Ribbed silk and linen (reproduction shirt, shoes, and stockings) Mounted on form: 60 × 30 × 24 in. (152.4 × 76.2 × 61 cm) Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. (2012.0187.001)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Charles Cozette's Folding Screen, showing Scenes of Versailles, c. 1768–70. Wood, oil on canvas, painted leather, 79 1/2 in. × 12 ft. 9 9/16 in. (202 × 390 cm) Collection of Monsieur and Madame Dominique Mégret, Paris

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Cabinet from Japan, 17th century. Lacquer, 45 11/16 × 42 1/2 × 24 7/16 in., 198.4 lb. (116 × 107.9 × 62 cm, 90 kg) Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Objets d’Art (OA 5474) Cannon from Siam, before 1686. Cast iron, silver-plated brass inlay, 2 3/8 × 73 5/8 in., 283.1 lb. (6.1 × 187 cm, 128.4 kg) The Royal Artillery Museum, Larkhill, United Kingdom (GUN1/020)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Drop-front secretary (Secrétaire en armoire) made by
Jean Henri Riesener,1783. Oak veneered with ebony and 17th-century Japanese lacquer, 57 × 43 × 16 in. (144.8 × 109.2 × 40.6 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art.Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920. Accession Number:20.155.11

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Jean Antoine Houdon's Thomas Jefferson, 1789. Marble, 22 1/4 × 18 7/8 × 10 1/4 in., 125 lb. (56.5 × 48 × 26 cm, 56.7 kg) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, George Nixon Black Fund (34.129

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Art Eyewitness Book Review: The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris

The Lives of the Surrealists

By Desmond Morris

Thames & Hudson/272 pages /$39.95

Reviewed by Ed Voves

Surrealism, the twentieth century art movement which sought to do away with art, was announced to the world in 1924. André Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism proclaimed that art was now to be created “in the absence of any control exercised by reason, beyond any aesthetic or moral concern.”

In short, Breton pronounced the death of Art – or at least of the kind of art that had been embraced in the Western world since the Renaissance.

It is peculiarly appropriate that Desmond Morris should evoke the very book that established the ideals of the Renaissance during the 1500’s in his book on the “Anti-Renaissance” of the 1900's. For his collective biography of the leading figures of the Surrealist movement, Morris recycled the title of Giorgio Vasari's Renaissance-era classic, The Lives of the Most Excellent Architects, Painters and Sculptors, aka “The Lives of the Artists.”

Morris’ choice of title, The Lives of the Surrealists, is not without some risk. The Surrealists were defiant in opposing everything that Vasari held dear –the rules of perspective, the careful delineation of form, the ideal of beauty. Where the Renaissance masters had sought to present the natural world as God's handiwork, the Surrealists probed the interior world of alienated humanity, a realm where nightmares were more prevalent than visions and dreams.

Conroy Maddox,The Poltergeist, 1941. 

Is Morris setting himself up for a fall by treating iconoclasts like Salvador Dali, André Masson, René Magritte, et al., with the kind of acclaim that Vasari had accorded to Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo?

Vasari and Morris actually have a lot in common. Morris, like Vasari, is a painter who personally knew many of the artists whose lives he so vividly portrays. Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Francis Bacon were some of the major Surrealists who were on friendly terms with Morris. Among the lesser known, all active in the British wing of Surrealism, Roland Penrose, Conroy Maddox and Edouard Mesens were close to Morris. Mesens sponsored the first exhibit of Morris' own Surrealist work in 1950.

Poster for Joan Miró, Desmond Morris, and Cyril Hamersma Exhibition, February 1950

Edouard Mesens (1903-1971), born in Belgium, was also a close friend of René Magritte (1898-1967). Morris was thus accorded privileged access to stories about the enigmatic Magritte. Second-hand testimony like this endows Morris' book with an immediacy which few other books about Surrealism can match.

Morris recounts how Mesens once walked into Magritte's studio and heard Magritte complaining to himself, "boring, boring, boring,"

Magritte, as is well-known, painted in an Old Master representational style. He was bored with painting because what he enjoyed was conceiving of the bizarre subject matter and  incoherent titles of his art works. That act of conception was the surreal element of Magritte's work and of his personality.

Why Magritte painted the "treachery of Images" - pipes that were not pipes, a man selecting facial expressions as if he were choosing a hat - may be explained by the effect of a family tragedy during his youth. Magritte's mother committed suicide in a particularly gruesome manner. 

While the effect of this experience of horror may have planted the seed of revolt in Magritte, the same does not appear to be true for most of the other Surrealists. Family tragedy at a young age occurs in only one other instance in Morris' book. Arshile Gorky's mother starved to death during the Armenian genocide in 1919, while helping her children escape. All of the other Surrealists grew-up in a comfortable life style, largely free of worry. A few - Leonara Carrington, Roland Penrose and Wolfgang Paalen - came from very wealthy families.

Wolfgang Paalen in Studio Daguerre, Paris, 1933.  Photographer unknown. 

Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959), despite family money and a rich patroness ran through his resources and took to art smuggling. He eventually committed suicide in a remote location in Mexico where his corpse was set upon by wild pigs. Before this truly surreal demise, Paalen invented a technique called fumage, which involved streaking paint on canvases that had been exposed to smoke from a candle. Paalen's work during the 1930's influenced the American Abstract Expressionist painters, though Jackson Pollock scoffed at fumage.

Wolfgang Paalen, Pays Interdit, 1936-37.

If there is a common element to the lives of the Surrealists it was their rebelliousness against middle class morality. Many of the Surrealists were born during the 1890's, the last decade of Victorian respectability. It was against the conformist elements of Victorianism that the Surrealists rebelled. The slaughter of World War I was experienced by several Surrealists (Henry Moore, Max Ernst, André Masson) but a long-ticking social/emotional time bomb actually preceded the war.

This brings us to the central figure in Surrealism, André Breton (1896-1966). Having announced in the movement’s First Manifesto that art originates in the unconscious mind and cannot be directed by ethical precepts, Breton turned this theory into an ironclad creed. Artists like Salvador Dali and Henry Moore who refused to follow his dictates were expelled from the movement. Breton's ruthless treatment of dissenters was the artistic counterpart of Stalin's purges of the Communist Party and the officer corps of the Soviet Army during the 1930's.

Morris writes very perceptively about Breton's micro-managing of a cohort of arch-individualists:

This was the basic contradiction of the surrealist movement that beset Breton with endless argument, dissertation and debate for the rest of his life. He must have been aware of this, but the perverse truth was that he relished the disputes and the protests. He positively enjoyed the tensions at the very center of the movement and sometimes seems to have deliberately inflamed the differences between the members of the group. The reason seems obvious enough - the more disagreement there was, the more important was his role as the judge and the jury.

The ruthless control of Breton, the "Pope of Surrealism," gave the movement a cohesion that insured its survival. The benefits of that forced-unity are open to question. The Dada movement, Surrealism's predecessor, lasted only a few years but these were generally very productive. Most of the truly creative Surrealists, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso, used Surrealist ideas and techniques for a few years and then moved on. Wolfgang Paalen, before his descent into hell, enjoyed three years of great success in the late 1930's.

If Surrealism had remained an option for artists during the 1920's and 1930's, rather than an "either-or" choice, the amount of quality work produced would have been much higher and the positive impact of Surrealism much greater. That is not what occurred.

In order for Surrealism to succeed as "movement," individuality was subordinated to Breton's dictatorship. Creativity was lost and many of Breton's acolytes frittered away their time and talent during the 1930's producing artworks of little value, based on a game of chance called "Exquisite Corpse." Also, a great deal of Surrealist "energy" was of the sexual kind, absorbed in marital betrayal. 

Morris ignores the absurdities of "Exquisite Corpse" but does give a considerable amount of attention to the sexual free-for-all that Surrealism occasioned. It's worth noting that the greatest sculptor of the Surrealists, Henry Moore (1898-1986), and the greatest Surrealist painter, Joan Miró (1893-1983), refused to join in the sexual mania of their colleagues - and the integrity of their work shows it.

Desmond Morris in his studio, 1948. Photographer unknown.

The chapter on Miró is a particular high-point of The Lives of the Surrealists. Morris knew him well. Miró visited Morris at the London Zoo where Morris worked and was conducting art experiments with a chimpanzee named Congo, who painted some pretty impressive Surrealist works. Miró was intrigued and swapped a painting with Morris for one of Congo's. Morris also shows a wonderful photo of Miró holding an exotic bird called a hornbill, taken by Lee Miller at the London Zoo in 1964.

Morris tells many amusing anecdotes - usually packing important insights. This makes The Lives of the Surrealists an absolute joy to read. Morris is also famed as an observer of humanity and this is where his personal skill-set is deployed to brilliant effect. Here is what he has to say about Henry Moore:

The only time I ever annoyed him was when I suggested that it might be worth making a visit to see the huge, new sculpture-garden of a Scandinavian artist that was making the news in the 1960's. To my surprise, Henry dismissed the man's work as appalling rubbish and a waste of space. This seemed so uncharacteristic of him because, on all other topics, he was the epitome of modest, friendly enthusiasm. I soon learned that there were two Henry Moores - the reserved, easy-going, eager-to-learn companion and the passionately driven sculptor who took no prisoners.

Henry Moore, c. 1930s. Photographer unknown.

For Henry Moore, as Morris perceptively noted, "the only thing that really mattered to him, and filled most of his waking hours, was the creation of sculpture."

The creation of sculpture no doubt filled Henry Moore's night-time dreams as well. Great artists are like that. They never sleep. 

Time will tell whether Morris' book will be referred to in the same way as "Vasari's Lives." After reading this thoughtful and hugely enjoyable book, I believe that there is a very good chance that “Morris’ Lives” will find a permanent place in the libraries of art history enthusiasts. They will keep it close to hand for frequent use, on the same book shelf as The Lives of the Most Excellent Architects, Painters and Sculptors.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved 

Images courtesy of Thames & Hudson.

Introductory Image: 
Book Cover, The Lives of the Surrealists, Courtesy of Thames & Hudson.

Conroy Maddox, The Poltergeist, 1941. Oil on  canvas, 61 x 51 cm (24 x 20 in.) Israel Museum, Jerusalem (B98.0516). By kind permission of the artist's daughter, Lee Saunders.

Poster for Joan Miró, Desmond Morris, and Cyril Hamersma, exhibition at E.L.T, Mesens' London Gallery, February 1950. Courtesy Desmond Morris

Wolfgang Paalen in Studio Daguerre, Paris, 1933. Photographer unknown. Succession Wolfgang Paalen et Eva Sulzer 

Wolfgang Paalen, Pays Interdit, 1936-37. Oil and candlesmoke (fumage) on canvas, 97.2 x 59.5 cm (38 1/4 x 23 3/8 in.) Succession Wolfgang Paalen et Eva Sulzer 

Desmond Morris in his studio, 1948. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Desmond Morris.

Henry Moore, c. 1930s. Photographer unknown. Height: 18.5 cm. Width: 14 cm (7 1/2 x 5 1/2 In. Photo Popperfoto/Getty Images

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema

Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA.
May 6, 2018 -  September 3, 2018

Reviewed by Ed Voves
Photos by Anne Lloyd

If Jean Renoir had not been shot by a German soldier in April 1915, the new exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia most likely would not have been presented. This may seem to be a heartless remark. Renoir himself, in the extraordinary book he later wrote,  acknowledged his "debt" to the Bavarian sharpshooter who fired the nearly fatal bullet.

As a result of his brush with death, Renoir received six months home leave to recuperate. During this "time-off" from World War I, Renoir spent many delightful and inspired hours talking to his elderly father, the great Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.

So Shakespeare wrote in Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

Despite being crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and confined to a wheelchair, Pierre-Auguste Renoir did not forget. He remembered the details of his amazing life and the pivotal role he played in the rise of Impressionism. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail of Photo of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Jean Renoir
Original Photo was taken by Pierre Bonnard, c. 1916

These memories he recounted to his son, a wounded soldier of the Great War. At the end of his long career as one of the pioneering directors of French cinema, Jean Renoir produced an extraordinary recollection of his own, Renoir, My Father, published in 1962.

The Barnes exhibit recreates the lifelong process by which the younger Renoir came to terms with the creative legacy of the elder. The debt he owed his father was considerable. 

Jean Renoir is quoted as saying that “I have spent my life trying to determine the extent of the influence of my father upon me.” 

This influence was a matter of inspiration, not emulation. Rather than be stunted by the mighty-oak shadow of his father, Jean Renoir did not try his hand as a painter. Rather, he grew in stature as an artist in his own right, a master of a different medium, film making.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of  the Renoir: Father and Son exhibition 
Painting at left is Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Les Baigneuses (The Bathers), 1919

This father-son partnership is illustrated from the very first display of the Barnes exhibit. This is a video excerpt of Jean Renoir's 1936 film Partie de campagne (A Day in the Country). Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant (who was a friend of Pierre-Auguste Renoir) it tells the story of an innocent Sunday excursion which becomes the occasion for seduction.

The key scene - the subject of the Barnes video loop  - shows a beautiful young woman, Henriette Dufour (played by Sylvia Bataille), swaying back-and-forth on a swing. Two debonair sportsmen spy her from the window of a country inn where they are having lunch. Their appetites quickly shift from scrambled eggs with tarragon to Henriette on the swing.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Film frame from Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country, 1936/1946, Courtesy of the Criterion Collection & Janus Films

Fifty years before Jean Renoir filmed A Day in the Country, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had painted The Swing. Here a young woman stands on a swing, accompanied by two admiring men and an adoring little girl. One of the men looks out from the picture and, meeting our gaze, draws us into the sun-dappled grove. There we join him, his companions and the beribboned beauty in a truly magical moment.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail views of Renoir's The Swing (1876) 

In a tremendous coup, the Barnes secured the loan of this iconic work of art for the Renoir: Father and Son exhibit. As a result, visitors to the exhibition can move but a few feet from viewing a masterpiece of French cinema to studying an icon of Impressionism.

The points of contrast between the film scene and the painting are as important and fascinating as the similarities. When Jean Renoir filmed A Day in the Country during the summer of 1936, France was in the midst of the left-wing Popular Front agitation which contributed to the disaster of 1940. The film is a wistful look backward at what appears to be a more balanced and relaxed way of life.

In 1876, when Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted The Swing, France was beginning to recover from the disastrous war with Germany in 1870-71. The idyllic scene promotes a feeling of recuperation as a nation. This was to prove a short-lived interval. The collapse in 1882 of a fraudulent investment bank triggered a nation-wide "panic." Durand-Ruel, the agent for Renoir and his fellow Impressionists was only saved from bankruptcy by American sales. This financial disaster was quickly followed by political instability climaxing in the Dreyfus Affair. 

The era of the Impressionists was thus much like the tumultuous 1930's when Jean Renoir was making his classic films. How fitting then was the fate of A Day in the Country which was not released until 1946 because of production difficulties and the outbreak of World War Two. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Sylvie Patry, Consulting Curator of the Barnes Foundation
After this brilliant beginning, the Barnes exhibition proceeds to examine the intertwined lives of the Renoirs, father and son. Since the Barnes collection has 181 Renoir paintings, many of them on view in the collection galleries, there is no need to recount the full story of the great Impressionist. Rather, the paintings on view in the exhibition illustrate the bonds of affection and the exchange of ideas between father and son.

By Jean's birth in 1894, Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent most of his time in the south of France in order to cope with the physical challenges imposed by arthritis. Unable to travel or even grasp his paint brushes to execute fine details on commissioned portraits, Renoir painted what was close at hand - local young women posing as models and his children, especially young Jean. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Renoir: Father and Son

A series of portraits of Jean shows him growing from an infant to a handsome adolescent posing in hunting gear. Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a great admirer of eighteenth century art. By dressing Jean as Pierrot,  Renoir acknowledged the great artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), whose wonderful painting of Pierrot has long been one of the highlights of the Louvre.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail of Renoir’s The White Pierrot, 1901/1902

As Jean Renoir matured into a capable, cultured young man, he searched for his own artistic medium on which to devote his talents. At first, he tried his hand at ceramics and the results are astonishing. Dr. Albert Barnes, who was a devoted collector of his father's paintings, purchased forty pieces of Jean's hand-painted ceramic ware

 Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Earthenware Vase by Jean Renoir, 1922

These relatively unknown works are a highlight of the Barnes exhibit. Most are painted in a vibrant French country motif. This exquisite vase, however, evokes the Arcadia-like atmosphere which the crippled Pierre-Auguste sought to convey in his final paintings. 

Creating hand-crafted ceramics is a hard way to make a living. By a unique chain of events, Jean Renoir became involved in the French film industry. During the 1920's, he began directing silent films, followed in the 1930's by his "talkies." Renoir's classic trilogy, A Day in the Country (1936/1946), Grand Illusions (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) raised cinema to a level that has seldom been surpassed.

A number of the costumes from Jean Renoir's films are displayed in the Barnes exhibit. One of the dresses has an incredible, indeed exaggerated, trailing skirt. This is a reproduction of a costume from Renoir's silent film version of Emil Zola's Nana (1926). I don't know if it was by chance or by design but when my wife, Anne, took a picture of the "train" of this dress, reflections of a railroad sequence from Renoir's The Human Beast (1938) glimmered on the display case. It was another magical moment in an enchanting exhibition.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Costume (reproduction) from Jean Renoir's Nana

The most magical moment in the exhibition came when I viewed a film clip of Pierre-Auguste Renoir with the art dealer, Ambroise Vollard.  I had seen this clip once, years ago, in an exhibit devoted to Vollard's amazing career. Now, once again seeing the aged Renoir, clearly in pain, yet bursting with creative vigor, I was able to appreciate the film sequence even more.

 Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Film frame from Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Painter, 1920 Silent Film produced by Gaumont Actualities
This life force, what the French during the World War I era called elan vital,was the great gift which the elder Renoir gave to his wounded son during his six months of convalescence. It lasted Jean Renoir a lifetime, during which he shared this gift with the world. 
In an extraordinary passage from Renoir, My Father, Jean Renoir described his father's elan vital:

Renoir's conception of life as a state of being rather than an undertaking seems to me an essential explanation of his character, of his art. I should add that this attitude was a joyous one, and that each stage of his life was for him marked by amazing discoveries. He looked at the world with continual astonishment, a feeling of surprise which he made no effort to hide. I saw my father suffer absolute martyrdom, but never saw him looking bored.

You too will enjoy many moments of joy, astonishment and inspiration at the Barnes Foundation exhibit, Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema. And if you follow the example of Jean Renoir, the creative force, the elan vital, that is present in the exhibition galleries will inspire you as well.


Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                               
 Photos courtesy of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. PA, and Anne Lloyd

ntroductory Image:

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) La balançoire (The Swing), 1876. Oil on canvas. H. 92 ; L. 73 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Gustave Caillebotte Bequest, 1894. © Musée d'Orsay

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail of photo, Auguste and Jean Renoir, taken by Pierre Bonnard, c. 1916. Original photo in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema exhibit at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia PA.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Film frame from Jean Renoir’s Partie de Campagne (A Day in the Country), 1936/1946. Produced by Les Films du Pantheon. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection and Janus Films.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail views of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La balançoire (The Swing), 1876.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Sylvie Patry, Consulting Curator of the Barnes Foundation at the press preview of the Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema exhibit.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema exhibit at the Barnes Foundation.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Detail views of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s The White Pierrot, 1901-02. Oil on canvas. 79.1 × 61.9 cm Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Vase by Jean Renoir, 1922. Earthenware with polychrome decoration over tin-glaze. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema exhibit, showing a reproduction of a costume from the 1926 film, Nana, directed by Jean Renoir.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Film frame from Pierre-Auguste Renoir: artiste-peinture (Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Painter), 1920. Produced by Gaumont Actualities. Distributed by Gaumont Pathé Archives.